Whether you’re an experienced kratom user or a newcomer to the plant, it’s essential to understand what you’re putting in your body.
Often, the term “all-natural” is considered by consumers to be synonymous with “safe,” but this isn’t always the case. After all, not everything that grows from the earth is suitable for human consumption. Similarly, a natural chemical that is harmless on its own could become dangerous or deadly when mixed with other chemicals.
Mitragynine — one of the primary alkaloids found in kratom — falls into this category. Kratom’s history of use has been well-documented by researchers, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the scientific community began to study the actual phytochemistry behind kratom’s psychoactive properties (Hassan et al., 2013).
Today, scientists now know that kratom is made up of over 40 different compounds. Of these compounds, the alkaloid mitragynine is the dominant force behind kratom’s pharmacological properties (Jayabalan et al., 2015).
If alkaloids are chiefly responsible for kratom’s psychoactive effects, you might be wondering what exactly is an alkaloid?
As it turns out, you might not know what alkaloids are — but your body probably does. In fact, if you’re drinking tea or coffee, you could be ingesting one of the most popular alkaloids right now! That’s because caffeine, along with nicotine, is one of the more well-known alkaloids in our modern society (Matsuura et al., 2017).
Scientifically speaking, alkaloids are nitrogen-containing compounds. They’re also one of the largest and most diverse groups of secondary metabolites and can be found in 20,000 different molecules across 20% of all known vascular plants (Matsuura et al., 2017).
Today, scientists know that most plant alkaloids act as natural defense mechanisms (Matsuura et al., 2017). If a herbivore goes to eat a plant that contains a toxic alkaloid, it might become sick, which would make that herbivore less likely to eat that plant in the future. Therefore, many alkaloids are toxic, but not all alkaloids are toxic to humans — including mitragynine.
Researchers now know that mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine are the main psychoactive components of kratom (Cinosi et al., 2015). While mitragynine makes up a larger percentage of kratom, 7-hydroxymitragynine (7-HMG) is much more potent. In fact, 7-HMG's pain-relieving properties are “13- and 46-fold higher than morphine and mitragynine, respectively” (Cinosi et al., 2015).
Additionally, mitragynine’s effects appear to be dose-dependent. Low doses seem to result in more stimulant-type effects, while higher doses are more sedating (Cinosi et al., 2015). It is this opioid-like behavior that has drawn comparisons to morphine and put kratom on the watchlist of drug agencies around the world.
While the properties of mitragynine are morphine-like, the alkaloid is structurally and pharmacologically different from morphine (an opiate) and is not a member of the opioid family.
Mitragynine can interact with the mu, kappa, and delta opioid receptors — activity that appears to be the driving factor behind its analgesic properties (Cinosi et al., 2015). However, when compared to morphine, mitragynine shows a much higher affinity for the kappa and delta opioid receptors (Jayabalan et al., 2015).
As with anything kratom-related, your experience with mitragynine is entirely your own. As a result, it’s important to experiment with small doses to learn how your body reacts.
Studies presume that, in humans, mitragynine is “relatively safe” at low doses (Cinosi et al., 2015). However, the definition of a ‘low’ dose is ultimately user-dependent. Some kratom users will need to consume more kratom to experience the effects of mitragynine, while others will need less.
While mitragynine toxicity in humans is uncommon, there is a danger when the alkaloid is mixed with other chemicals. For instance, 4x100, a ‘cocktail’ popular among young Muslims as a substitute for alcohol, is made from a mixture of kratom, coca-cola, and codeine-containing cough syrup. Unfortunately, this drug cocktail has been implicated in several deaths (Tungtananuwat et al., 2010). As a result, you should always exercise caution and research the potential interactions between kratom and other drugs, medications, and supplements you might be taking.
Ultimately, your experience with mitragynine will depend on the kratom strain you choose, its mitragynine concentration, and the amount of kratom you consume. There’s no substitute for knowledge, so the more you learn about mitragynine before experimenting (reading this article is a great start!), the better your experience is bound to be.
For more information on mitragynine and how to safely use kratom, check out our other blog posts!