If you’ve read much about kratom, you’ve probably come across the term “alkaloid”. This week on the blog, we’ll peek into the chemistry of these compounds and look at the alkaloids specific to kratom!
What Are Alkaloids?
Alkaloids are “nitrogenous organic compounds” that come from plants. As if we need more evidence of the symbiotic relationship between humans and the environment, alkaloids have a physiological effect on the human body (much like cannabis, with the cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system). Some alkaloids are healing (used in treating pain, inflammation, immune disorders, and much more), and others are toxic (such as atropine).
Does it seem weird to you that these compounds contain nitrogen? You might think of that as a negative thing in car exhaust or something, but actually nitrogen is an essential element in every living thing. When nitrogen and hydrogen atoms combine, an alkaloid is born.
Alkaloids are basic (rather than acidic) and are just tiny little single molecules. Alkaloids exist in pretty much everything, and even though no one is exactly sure what role alkaloids play in the plant itself (maybe seed production?), plant alkaloids have been singled out and used in medicine for hundreds of years. Morphine, one of the better-known painkiller opioids, was discovered and synthesized for medical use back in 1805!
Kratom AlkaloidsLike other plants (such as poppies/opium), kratom contains alkaloids – in fact, it has lots of them! Even though most of the existing research has been done on two specific ones (we’ll get to them shortly), close to 30 alkaloids have been identified in kratom, and there’s little doubt most of them have some therapeutic benefit to offer. Here are just a few of the alkaloids found in kratom – bonus points if you can correctly pronounce them all!
The most talked-about and abundant alkaloid in kratom is probably mitragynine. Known as an indole alkaloid (one of the largest alkaloid classes, with more than 4,100 compounds!), which pretty much means it has physiological effects. In fact, psilocybin mushrooms fall into this category.
Don’t worry, though, it’s highly unlikely mitragynine will make you hallucinate neon colors (at least in the small quantities found in kratom). Like the alkaloids of the opiate persuasion, mitragynine affects the mu (μ) opioid receptors in the body. Due to the fundamental differences in the shape of the molecules (and the resulting effects), mitragynine is an opioid agonist, not a real opioid.
There is a lot to know about this alkaloid from a chemistry standpoint, but since your writer doesn’t understand it, she won’t try to explain it, and would simply encourage you to look it up if you’re interested!
7-HydroxymitragynineThough found in kratom in smaller concentrations than mitragynine, 7-HMG (as it’s often known) is a potent alkaloid and a noteworthy analgesic. Believed to have up to 30 times more potency than its fellow alkaloid, it’s probably a good thing it’s found only in very small quantities, or kratom would probably not be such an accessible and relatively safe natural option!
Because 7-HMG is only a “partial opioid agonist”, it causes considerably fewer negative side effects – especially for those who stick to the small quantities of kratom we always recommend (no more than 6 grams per day, preferably not every day). Opioids like morphine can cause fun effects like constipation, not to mention serious withdrawal, and require regular increases in dosage because tolerance builds so quickly. Via kratom, 7-HMG is not nearly as intense, and many advocates find it actually eases withdrawal symptoms in people trying to cut back or eliminate opioid painkillers.
Red vein kratom strains have the most 7-hydroxymitragynine, which is why they are most often used for their pain relieving and relaxing qualities. It seems 7-HMG builds on itself more than mitragynine, as well, as higher quantities of any kratom strain will produce more sedating effects.
Have you experienced the benefits of kratom alkaloids? We’d love to hear about your experience – comment below!