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There’s a lot of plant-based power behind kratom’s effects. Inside each leaf, over forty alkaloids work together to relieve pain, improve mood, and more. But according to new research, one of these alkaloids, 7-hydroxymitragynine, may contribute less to kratom pain relief than previously believed.
Along with mitragynine, 7-hydroxymitragynine is considered the main “driver” of kratom’s properties. Both alkaloids act on the brain’s opioid receptors to relieve pain. And of the two, 7-hydroxymitragynine is considered more pain-relieving and addictive. However, comparing these alkaloids isn’t apples-to-apples: When someone ingests mitragynine, the body actually converts some of it to 7-hydroxymitragynine. That means that you can’t have one without the other — at least with natural kratom.
Observing this, researchers at the University of Florida “decoupled” 7-hydroxymitragynine and mitragynine to compare their psychoactive properties individually. First, they isolated and prepared doses of both alkaloids, ensuring each would provide mice with equivalent pain relief for accurate comparison. Then, they dosed male and female mice with either alkaloid. The researchers then used the “hot plate test” to assess how the rats responded to pain.
Their results were surprising. Despite experiencing similar pain-relief, the mitragynine-dosed mice had 3.7-4 times less 7-hydroxymitragynine in their brains compared to the 7-hydroxymitragynine-dosed mice. As a result, the researchers concluded that 7-hydroxymitragynine couldn’t be responsible for mitragynine’s pain-relieving properties: If it is, the mitragynine-dosed mice would’ve experienced less pain relief.
But how is this possible? For an explanation, the researchers pointed to other studies, which indicate that mitragynine may provide pain relief through other, non-opioid pathways.
Of course, the Florida researchers conducted their study on mice, so their results might not translate to humans. They noted that drug effects can vary depending on species. For example, a 2020 study found that female beagle dogs could be more sensitive to 7-hydroxymitragynine than other animals.