What is Kratom?
Kratom In a Nutshell
Kratom is the common name for Mitragyna speciosa, a group of evergreen trees native to Southeast Asia. It belongs to the Mitragyna genus of the Rubiaceae family, the same family as the coffee tree. So, wait, if the tree is Mitragyna speciosa, why do we call the herbal supplement “kratom”? The term comes from the word Thai people use for the herb, Kra-thum. The Malaysian word, ketum, sounds similar and there are numerous variations throughout Southeast Asia. Now us English-speakers have our own variation of the word.
The Kratom tree grows wild in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, and other areas in the Pacific Rim. Known for its hanging clusters of deep yellow flowers and reaching heights of 42 feet. Southeast Asians have used Kratom for centuries as an herbal supplement in folk medicine. The herb has been particularly popular among men who worked physically demanding jobs. It is likely because they enjoyed the natural energy boost and pain reduction the herb promoted.
Why do people use kratom?
People mainly use Kratom for its complex, dose-dependent opioid- and psychostimulant-like subjective effects. Low to moderate doses (1-5 g) of the leaves reportedly produce mild stimulant effects that help to stave off fatigue. On the other hand, users report that moderate to high doses (5-15 g) have opioid-like effects. According to an American survey, even low doses do a great job at promoting a reduction in physical pain.
As far as we currently know, the main psychoactive components in the leaves are the alkaloids mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine(7-HMG). M. speciosa is the only plant that has these two key alkaloids. Besides these key psychoactive alkaloids, there are more than 40 compounds in M. speciosa leaves. This includes about 25 alkaloids other than mitragynine and 7-HMG, including ajmalicine, mitraphylline, mitragynine pseudoindoxyl, and rhynchophylline. More exciting scientific research is currently underway to better understand M. speciosa and its alkaloids. One thing is already certain: this is a marvelous and fascinating plant.
When hearing of Kratom’s psychoactive alkaloids, some folks’ alarms might sound. So, to be clear: Kratom is not an opiate, nor is it a synthetic drug. Kratom is a safe psychoactive herbal supplement that behaves as a partial mu-opioid receptor agonist. People use the herb for pain management, energy, and even depression and anxiety. It contains no opiates, but it does bind to the same receptor sites in the brain. Chocolate, coffee, exercise and even human breast milk hit these receptor sites in a similar fashion. After at least two centuries of Kratom use in Southeast Asia, not one person has died from using this miraculous herb.
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The Kratom Strain Controversy
With an endless variety of strains offered by an endless variety of vendors, someone new to Kratom either feels excited to have so many options or overwhelmed and confused by the endless array of hard-to-remember names and benefit claims (which one should I choose!?).
Regardless of how you respond to the ever-growing list of strains available on the market, the fact that there is an ever-growing list of strains definitely begs a question: Are the differences between Kratom strains actually valid?
The Ongoing Debate
Some people claim it’s all marketing tactics formulated by farmers, suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and vendors. Others claim that the differences are very real, and you only need to experiment yourself to find out.
Well one of them must be right… right? Wrong. As the great axiom goes, there are two sides to every story, and, then, there is the truth.
So, what is the truth about Kratom strains? Well, before we jump into this pressing question, we must acknowledge that the knowledge we currently possess will almost definitely go through a serious refining process over the upcoming years, because Kratom’s widespread popularity is a young phenomenon – the science is young, the historical records we have are limited, and there are plenty of conflicting ‘truths’ within the global Kratom community.
Now, having acknowledged the real limitations of our times, lets jump into it.
Until there is a clear consensus on Kratom strains, it’s only right that we give a fair voice to the two main conflicting groups in this ongoing debate. Once we’ve accomplished that, we will share our compatibilist sort-of view that we’ve arrived at after studying the literature, experimenting with Kratom ourselves, and hearing from many novice and experienced Kratom enthusiasts.
Kratom Strain Believers
First, let’s give voice to those who claim that all the different strains are real and examine the truths that lead them to believe that.
There are three primary truths that underly this view. The first is that there are obvious observable differences between Kratom plants. The second is that Kratom powder comes in a variety of colors. The third, and most powerful truth, is that many Kratom users report different effects depending on the strain they use.
If we walked onto a Kratom farm or a patch of Kratom trees in the wild, its highly probable that we would almost immediately notice the different colored veins running through the leaves and, if we looked closer at the leaves, we’d even notice that some have ‘horned’, or serrated, edges while most had a clean, smooth edge. Those observations, combined with the knowledge that Kratom trees grow in different regions with different climates, lead to the logical conclusion that different Kratom plants (varying in features and environments) equal different Kratom strains.
Besides the differences found between live Kratom plants, there are many obvious and subtle differences in the color of Kratom powders. The different colors, coupled with the various strain names, makes many Kratom consumers never even question the validity of strain differences, even if they don’t really feel the differences themselves.
On the other hand, those who do feel the differences between strains are impossible to convince otherwise – and for good reason. After all, if you’ve experienced the differences yourself, why would you listen to someone -even if they are a scientist- who tells you that the differences, that you’ve experienced firsthand, aren’t real. These Kratom users make up the best defense against the opposition who claim that Kratom is Kratom and the strain differences are, in fact, just name differences created merely for marketing purposes.
So, why are so many seemingly qualified people starting to question or outright deny the validity of Kratom strains?
Again, we’ll break it down into three main truths that form the basis for their position. The first reason is that people in the Kratom industry have created ‘new strains’ merely for marketing purposes. The second is that scientists have found little to no substantial differences in live Kratom plants. The third reason is that, despite many Kratom users swearing that they feel a difference between strains, there are still some people who report feeling little to no differences at all between the various strains.
The first reason -people creating new Kratom ‘strains’ merely for marketing purposes- is the only one where there is someone to blame: the purely money-driven people and businesses in the Kratom industry.
If your only concern is making fast money, this is a reasonable marketing strategy (and, sadly, one that is used in many industries). The reasoning is that if you have new strains that the Kratom consumer hasn’t tried yet or have more strains available for the Kratom consumer to choose from, you’ll increase sales. The problem is that what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander, and, in this case, the gander is the Kratom community.
While it may be a good short-term business strategy, in our opinion, it’s a terrible long-term strategy. It’s also responsible for Kratom consumers feeling confused, perplexed, disappointed, and a lack of confidence in Kratom vendors. When you put money before the customers, you both end up losing. The crack will eventually break.
While the arbitrary nature of creating new strains merely for marketing purposes is the most reprehensible contributing factor to people casting doubt on the substantiality of differences between Kratom strains, it’s not the only one. Kratom scientists have also been giving us reasons to question the validity of strain categorization as well.
Leading kratom scientists found that red veined plants grow side-by-side with green and white-veined plants, which led them to believe there is a possibility that red-veined plants could produce white and green-veined plants, and vice-versa. They also observed that white and green-veined Kratom plants are actually the same plant, simply exhibiting a different color vein at different times of the year.
Furthermore, while they did find clear variations in the features and regions of the Kratom plants, they found little to no difference in the key alkaloid levels and ratios. More studies must be done, but, so far, their findings are quite compelling.
Now, the final blow to the belief in different kratom strains: some users report feeling little to no difference when using different strains. That’s right. In complete opposition to those who do feel differences, this group of people report feeling little to no differences between the various strains (in this article we don’t even attempt to reconcile these two groups). However, it is interesting to note that most of them, while claiming they don’t feel differences, will still have their go-to strain.
The Final Analysis
Ok. Both sides seem convincing, right? That’s because they are. See, both sides of the debate are compelling, because they both have truths to back up their claims, but the underlying problem isn’t one of truths: it is a lack of consensus on what we mean by strains.
See, when scientists look at live plants to distinguish strains, they are concerned with alkaloid content and ratios, physical characteristics, and so on(in fact, scientists did find differences in alkaloid content and ratios when testing powdered Kratom, but didn’t consider that evidence of different strains, but evidence of different drying and refining processes). Likewise, when farmers, harvesters, and suppliers distinguish between strains, they are usually concerned with the color and region. And, as previously mentioned, there are those who distinguish strains merely for marketing purposes.
The problem is that everyone is looking at it from a different angle. So, the question becomes, what’s the best angle to take on strains?
At Bow Key Botanicals, we believe that the best angle to take is that of a kratom user. And, ultimately, from the kratom users’ perspective, excluding a small fraction of users, and, with some scientific evidence backing them up, categorizing different kratom strains is valid.
Most kratom users are less concerned with the color, taste, region grown, etc. than they are with how the kratom affects them. That’s right, kratom users care most about the benefits they receive, not the name on the package. Therefore, we think the industry should categorize strains with that as the primary value.
Unfortunately, we can’t get the whole kratom industry on board with us, and, therefore, can only make sure that we use the best and most ethical practices. At Bow Key Botanicals, we don’t arbitrarily choose or, for marketing reasons, create strains to add to our Kratom inventory. Instead, we go through a thorough vetting process.
First, we verify the source and consistency of the Kratom strain we’re interested in. After that, we test the strain for quality and distinctiveness. Once, it has passed through each of those phases, we turn it over to our customers to make the final decision. If you guys and gals like it, we keep it; if not, we let it go. That’s our simple, but practical, process for choosing strains and we recommend it to everyone in the industry.
There is an ongoing debate about whether Kratom strains are valid or not, and both sides of the debate have valid arguments. However, at the core of this debate is a lack of consensus on how we define the word strain, which is just another word for type.
Because of the lack of consensus on how we should categorize different types of Kratom, we believe in a consumer-centered approach. And, for the majority of kratom users, distinguishing between kratom strains is valid. However, we don’t support those in the industry who take advantage of this by arbitrarily adding and creating strains to bolster sales.
At Bow Key Botanicals, we put our fellow Kratom users first by mindfully vetting each strain. After a strain passes through our checks and tests, we turn it over to you guys to do the voting. Only the best are kept. This allows us to offer you the best Kratom strains available on the market, without overloading you with unnecessary options.
Finally, I’ll end this lengthy article with the succinct answer I was given(in broken English) early on in my kratom journey when asking a kratom harvester whether or not there were actually different kratom strains: all strains are different, but not too far away.
History of Kratom Use
Throughout history, humans have used plant-derived materials to treat ailments, cope with stress, and achieve altered states. Even with the development of modern pharmaceuticals and medical practices, many people still use herbal remedies either as alternatives to or in conjunction with mainstream medical care.
Several years ago, it was reported that more than 30% of US patients had used or were currently using herbal-based remedies. Among these natural remedies, Kratom has gained great popularity in recent years due to its reliable effects.
Kratom’s Many Uses
It’s unclear when kratom use began, and, although we only have a couple centuries of documented Kratom use in Southeast Asia, the practice is thought to be ancient.
In its native growing regions, leaves from the plant have been used to numb aches and pains, soothe fevers, treat diarrhea, manage diabetes, and alleviate addiction. They have also been applied as poultices to wounds or spread across the abdomen to drive out worms.
Kratom In Thailand and Malaysia
Besides traditional medicinal uses, kratom leaves have also been used by Thai and Malaysian natives for centuries to help promote energy and physical ease. Even today, Kratom is particularly favored by physical laborers in Southeast Asian countries.
Traditionally, the broad green leaves are plucked by hand and chewed or dried in the sun, to be brewed as a tea, or, less commonly, pulverized and swallowed with water.
From at least as far back as the early 19th century in Malaysia, kratom has also been used as a sedative—especially as a replacement for opium. In the early 20th century, during Thailand’s opiate epidemic, Kra-thum gained popularity as a supplement that helped ease opium withdrawal symptoms and assist opiate addicts in getting clean.
Unfortunately, after Kra-thum appeared on the Thai government’s radar as a threat to their opium profits, they outlawed Kra-thum. However, Thailand recently changed its Kratom laws to allow its use for medicinal purposes.
The Unfolding Of Kratom’s History
Despite the legal restrictions in some Southeast Asian countries, Kratom never became widely perceived as a drug and kept its place in folk medicine by the general villagers and in herbal supplements among the village men and laborers.
The story of Kratom is alive today and the West has become an essential part of it. With Kratom for sale online and in retail stores across the United States and Kratom use growing at a steady rate, it looks like Kratom is finding its place in American society.
Not only does our entry into Kratom’s story bring with it plenty of unanswered questions about Kratom’s history (like whether it has been used for centuries or for millennia), but also basic questions about the plant itself, like, what’s the real difference between Kratom strains?