Once upon a time, in Southeast Asia, a tropical tree called Mitragyna speciosa used to grow in its natural environment surrounded by other members of its genetic family. Nobody planted them. The kratom trees popped up naturally. They were an indigenous species that were native to the region. And they flourished as such for century after century with no one ever being the wiser.
However, that’s no longer the case. Today, nearby fertile lands are cultivated by local farmers to plant the kratom trees for commercial purposes. And they make lots of money doing such because kratom is now their primary cash crop. You see, the kratom tree is not just any tree. It’s a member of the coffee family. And the entire world loves its coffee. So the popularity of the kratom tree has increased over the past few decades.
But even though the chemical compositions within the plant are similar to those found inside a coffee bean, there are molecular structures found inside it that make it a lot different, too.
While Mitragyna speciosa hosts over 40 separate alkaloids that comprise its plant matter, two primary alkaloids have additional medicinal properties that make it unique.
Alkaloids of kratom
Those two main molecular compounds found in the kratom leaf are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. A few other minor alkaloids included in kratom are paynantheine, speciogynine and speciociliatine. Here we’re going to put two of these main alkaloids under the microscope to learn about them. But before discussing these, we will learn what actually are alkaloids and what do they do.
What is an alkaloid?
Alkaloids are members of large group of chemicals that are made by plants and contain nitrogen. Many alkaloids have potent pharmacologic effects. Nicotine, cocaine, strychnine, caffeine, atropine, morphine, ephedrine, methamphetamine, etc. are some examples of alkaloids. Alkaloids serve a wide variety of functions. In plants, the exact role has not yet been determined. But it is clear that alkaloids play an important role in preventing plants from insects and pesticides. In some plants, it is observed that the concentration of alkaloids increase prior to seed formation and eventually drops off when the seed is fully ripe. This indicates that alkaloids also have some role in seed ripening.
Beneficial role of alkaloids in treating various conditions
Alkaloids have various functions in humans. The medicinal properties of alkaloids are quite diverse. Morphine is a strong narcotic used for relieving nervousness. Codeine has a function similar to morphine but with less addictive property comparatively. Nicotine acts as a stimulant and a natural tranquilizer. Atropine is used to prevent intestinal spasms and as an antidote to many poisons. Caffeine is a stimulant and a natural pesticide. Other alkaloids work as cardiac or respiratory stimulants. Besides this, alkaloids possess local anesthetic, antimalarial, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, anti-microbial, neuropharmacological, antiasthmatic, antiarrhythmic, muscle relaxant, chemotherapeutic and many other properties beneficial to humans.
Kratom Leaves and Mitragynine
The most abundant alkaloid found within the kratom leaf is mitragynine. Depending on the variety of the leaf that’s provided, the concentration of this compound can vary significantly. But no matter which strain you look at, mitragynine is always the most predominant alkaloid found within the composition of plant matter whenever its leaves are picked directly off a tree.
The medicinal properties of mitragynine are fascinating, too. Science has proven this spectacular alkaloid acts as a typical substance agonists in our bodies. What that means in layman’s terms is that it provides users with discomfort-reducing analgesic effects while simultaneously limiting any negative side effects that are typical with opioids found in opium poppies.
Mitragynine binds to opioid receptors in the brain and thus, relieves nervousness. This mechanism of action is believed to be the main reason of why kratom provides relief in times of nervousness reported by a few kratom users. It is also believed that kratom produces sedative effects. This can also help in relieving nervousness in a few cases. It is said to increase focus, enhance mood and behaviour and also causes euphoria.
There are other instances where science has seen atypical opioids before. Three such examples would be the drugs buprenorphine, tapentadol, and tramadol. However, all three of those analgesics were chemically synthesized in laboratories by scientists trying to manipulate those effects.
So, it seems, nature had already beaten us to the punch by providing a plant that already contained natural compounds that performed the feat we were looking for.
And whenever you think about the opioid epidemic that’s currently ravaging throughout several countries, including our own, you would imagine our government would want to embrace such an advantageous alkaloid with open arms. However, we’ve witnessed quite the opposite in the past few years, which makes you wonder about our government’s agenda.
Kratom Leaves and 7-hydroxymitragynine
The other main alkaloid found in the kratom plant is 7-hydroxymitragynine. Unlike its chemical compound cousin, mitragynine, the concentration of this alkaloid is somewhat limited within the fresh leaf found on the tree. However, out of the two alkaloids, it’s the molecule that most users rely on for its analgesic effects to combat nervousness. The reason for such is that 7-hydroxymitragynine produces a psychotropic effect whenever large doses are taken, creating a euphoric feeling in the user.
But if 7-hydroxymitragynine is almost nonexistent in the kratom leaf, then how does it play such a large role in the kratom tea a consumer drinks?
And the answer to that question resides in how the alkaloid is created. You see, the mitragynine molecule we discussed earlier actually turns into 7-hydroxymitragynine whenever it oxidizes—meaning the sunlight converts mitragynine into a separate chemical compound.
And we witness this phenomenon occur on a significant scale when farmers place their kratom leaves out to dry during production. The reason they do that is because it makes the plant matter easy to crush into a powder form for shipments. But whenever they’re drying the leaves, an oxidation process occurs and converts the plant’s primary alkaloid into a separate oxidized alkaloid.
So that means the minute amounts of 7-hydroxymitragynine we find inside the leaves on the tree are actually the result of an oxidation process, too. And those alkaloid remnants develop from the sunlight hitting the leaves while they’re still attached to the branches.
It’s fascinating to learn what Mother Nature can accomplish on her own because these alkaloids play such an essential role in providing nervousness relief to people all across the globe.