Super human strength at the gym? No. Feelings of euphoria or hallucinations? Definitely not. Nausea, sweating and dizziness? None of that either.
These are just some of the alleged side effects of kratom, according to widely varied internet reports — though certainly not what I experienced while recently experimenting with the herbal supplement.
Though it’s sometimes mentioned as a “legal high,” kratom is not like Spice, a sort of synthetic marijuana. It’s not the hallucinogenic, tweak-out inducing salvia. And it’s certainly not 2012’s street drug of the year, bath salts.
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a plant native to Southeast Asia in the coffee family. It’s said in low doses to relieve pain as an alternative to opiates, to increase concentration, and to improve mood. In higher doses, it can reportedly have a sedative effect.
There’s limited medical research about kratom and its risks — though it’s not risk-free. It’s banned in Australia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand and in the US states of Indiana and Tennessee. Recently, a bill was introduced in Florida to ban the herb. Across the US, several reports of deaths and addiction led the DEA to place kratom on its list of “Drugs and Chemicals of Concern.”
Business Insider published an article detailing kratom’s wide variety of side effects as collected from several blogs. “2015 could be the year of kratom, the sleeper-hit wonder drug that’s as schizophrenic as the internet that spawned it,” Shane Dixon Kavanaugh of Vocativ wrote.
I lived in Miami during the 2012 “bath salts induced face eating zombie incident that wasn’t actually caused by bath salts,” and since then I’ve been intrigued by any new internet-famous drug. I reached out to several herbal supplement distributors and obtained samples from from Lucky and Online Kratom.
I do not have chronic pain, so I cannot speak to its usefulness in that realm, but I am always looking for a natural alternative to caffeine when I need a jolt of energy. I rarely drink coffee and will have tea as-needed for an energy boost.
My plan was to try kratom for two weeks (excluding weekends) to see if I had a miracle drug on my hands or was about to make a huge mistake.
A note: it’s possible that some or all of what I felt was due to a placebo effect, and since kratom has risks that aren’t well defined, we don’t recommend trying this.
Day 1 – Monday
Refreshed from the weekend, I didn’t hit a brick wall until 2:45PM, when the post-lunch sleepiness had my eyes closing at my standing desk. I took the recommended dosage of three capsules of 850mg Maeng Da Kratom.
Within thirty minutes I felt a slight buzz, similar to a very light dosage of Adderall. This lasted for about three hours, and then I felt normal. My heart rate seemed unchanged, and I focused more on the video I was editing. My mind did not wander, but I felt like a muted version of myself. I finished editing but lacked the creative edge that keeps me thinking about other ideas.
Day 2 – Tuesday
The sleep accumulated from the weekend was gone, and I felt lethargic by 10:45AM. I took the recommended dosage of 6 capsules of Parvati White Thai. This is a different strain of kratom.
By 11:15AM it really kicked in with a real intense Adderall-like buzz. It was an unpleasant speedy feeling that was short lived and gone by noon. Though not nearly as strong, I still felt like I was on something for the next two hours. I was more alert before and after lunch, but it was a feeling I was eager to have subside.
Day 3 – Wednesday
I was out late the night before meeting a friend for drinks, so this morning I was happy to have kratom available for some much needed energy. Around 9:15AM, I took six capsules of Brahma Bali kratom.This is another different variety. The names generally reflect the location the plant grows.
It took about two hours until it finally kicked in, and I was speeding. A lot. It was a very intense caffeine-like buzz — more powerful than the Maeng Da and the Parvati White. I checked my pulse, but my heart rate was not noticeably higher than normal. I was on edge for the next three hours, yet I was no more productive than usual. More alert, yes, but I could not stop checking my pulse. So much for increased focus.
Day 4 – Thursday
Again, I was tired this morning. I wanted to return to the Maeng Da Kratom since that was the most pleasant of the strains. I took three capsules at 9:58AM.
This type seems to be the calmest buzz. It did help get me through the morning, and I was able to function without any problems.
Day 5 – Friday
Around 9:30AM, I popped six capsules of Samsara. This is a fusion meaning it’s a combination of multiple strains of kratom. I was told by Online Kratom that “it’s a blend of all of the Borneo varieties (Red, Green, White) with 10% Sakti Borneo Extract.” This basically translates to: it’s four types of kratom strains.
An hour and a half later, I had a painful headache with a mild caffeine-like buzz. This was the weakest one even making me feel more tired. Once again, I felt like I was on something and had no change in performance or focus.
One week into my test, and I was not a kratom believer. Despite some days getting an added kick to my system, my quest for a new energy supplement was so far unsuccessful. I felt my productivity decreased. During the days when the “kratom rush” was too intense for me, I was focusing more on the side effects than my actual work.
Day 6 – Monday
I was up late Sunday night working on details for an upcoming shoot, so this morning was going to be a good test of kratom’s supposed powers. At 10AM, I took six capsules of Indra Fusion. Another fusion, this has 10% blue lotus flower (which supposedly has a mild sedative effect) and 10% kratom extract. The blends concern me since I don’t know what mixing strains does and some contain ingredients that may have other side effects.
I also have no clue who decided these strains should be mixed together.
It was another low buzz without any more alertness or focus. Around 2PM, I still felt like I was on something but was more tired. I’d rather have a caffeine buzz because now I felt weird. I was clearly on a drug but one with no benefits.
I wanted to know when it would end, and I did not want to try tea or a soda. This entire test period I kept my kratom intake as pure as possible, not wanting interactions between the supplement and other drinks or substances.
I don’t recommend trying it
By Tuesday, I had no desire to continue my exploration of kratom, so I stopped my experiment. My days were in no way more productive, and I was tired of feeling oddly drugged at work.
Although I didn’t consistently take the same type of kratom, it concerned me that I had such varied experiences with each blend. I was no longer eager to ingest something that was not consistent in its effects.
This plus the lack of long term medical research on kratom’s effects put me in no hurry to make this herbal supplement a part of my daily morning routine.
I don’t know how other self-experimenters who documented their stories on the internet encountered such varied side effects. I suspect people were combining it with drugs and/or alcohol and not taking the recommended dosage. Knowing how I felt taking it while sober, I would in no way want to experience mixing kratom with anything else, potentially opening myself to more health risks.
Without any regulation, you are relying on the sellers to give you a dosage and create blends at their own discretion — something supplement makers are notoriously inconsistent about. It was unsettling to see the packaging with typos. The bottle supplied by Lucky used this spelling: “necesarry.” They forget to make “capsule” plural, and they used “that” when I believe they meant “than.”
As long as kratom remains an herbal supplement found in the depths of the internet or smoke shops, it’s not something for me. There are people who claim to receive benefits from it, but I would be cautious about trying it. There’s little medical research, and I’m sceptical of unknown short and long term side effects.
I will not be trying kratom again or adding it into my daily routine. I’ll have to stick to tea.
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