Alkaloids are the main component of kratom — the active ingredients, so to speak. It’s a word you may have heard before, possibly in science class, but it’s not something most of us are well-versed in.
But did you know that we encounter alkaloids every day? By demystifying the alkaloid, you’ll have valuable context for understanding kratom and its potential benefits.
What Are Alkaloids?
There’s not really an easy way to define alkaloids, which is part of the difficulty in understanding them. When you ask the internet for an alkaloid definition, you’ll get the chemical qualities. Let’s look at some of those characteristics and then regroup.
- It’s a major nitrogen-containing organic compound, mostly found in plants and, interestingly, in poison dart frogs and beavers.
- The nitrogen atoms make alkaloids an amine-type compound, meaning they’re derived from ammonia.
- As a chemical compound, it’s a base — as opposed to an acid — which means it forms salt in reaction with acids and has a bitter taste.
- A literal alkaloids definition is “alkali-like,” where an alkali is an inorganic base that dissolves in water (and similarly reacts with acids to form salts).
Do you feel like you know what an alkaloid is now? Probably not. You might be able to recite some information on chemical alkaloid structure, which is important for organic chemistry but leaves out the biological impact or importance.
What might an alkaloid mean to a plant, person, or animal?
What Is an Alkaloid For?
Well, that question presents a whole other dilemma. Thousands of alkaloids are found in thousands of different plants, with different structures and different effects on humans and animals.
- In plants, their natural home, they’re classified as secondary metabolites. Organisms need their primary metabolites — carbs, proteins, and lipids– to live, function, and reproduce. Secondary metabolites like plants produce — alkaloids, antibiotics, or toxins — aren’t considered indispensable to growth or development.
- So, what are they for? Scientists haven’t quite cracked that one yet. Some evidence suggests they may provide a survival advantage. Alkaloids, for example, will make a plant taste bitter (or be toxic) and help deter predators.
Although alkaloids didn’t come about just for our use, we have been able to take advantage of their various medicinal properties for hundreds of years. So, alkaloids have helped us treat pain and other problems for humans and develop a robust panel of useful synthetic drugs.
The Plant Alkaloids We All Know
The fun part of learning about alkaloids is uncovering all the products that are actually alkaloid-based. This gives a better illustration of alkaloids’ different abilities.
It all started with the opium poppy, from which we first figured out the structure of morphine. We were able to isolate and crystallize it around the turn of the 19th century. The classification of morphine is as an opiate analgesic or pain reliever. All-natural and synthetic opioids are types of alkaloid-derived analgesics.
- Cocaine is an alkaloid derived from the coca plant; even mescaline and LSD are alkaloids. LSD, however, was synthesized from alkaloids derived from rye ergot fungus, not a plant.
- In its natural state, the ergot alkaloid can cause poisoning. There are quite a few alkaloid poisons, including deadly nightshade (whose two antidotes are also plant-derived alkaloids), hemlock, and strychnine.
- On a different end of the spectrum, we also have the common — and legal — stimulants, caffeine, and nicotine.
Those may be the most famous, but many important and useful alkaloids aren’t in the common vernacular. To show how varied the effects of alkaloids can be, you might use different ones to help treat irregular heart rhythms, malaria, nasal congestion, cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, hemorrhaging, or migraine headaches.
With thousands to choose from, it’s little wonder we would be able to apply them so broadly.
Alkaloids and Kratom
So, if you’ve ever wondered how exactly kratom works or why it works the way it does, you may now have a clearer picture. Kratom is the Mitragyna speciosa plant from the family Rubiaceae, which also includes Coffea coffee plants and Cinchona trees (AKA, the ones with alkaloids for heart rhythms and malaria).
Now we can consider it in the proper context: although kratom can be used recreationally, like many of the alkaloid drugs above, it can also be effectively used for therapeutic purposes.
Kratom contains two key alkaloids: mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.
- Continuing the chemistry talk from earlier, you can consider 7-hydroxymitragynine as mitragynine but with fewer electrons. It’s an active metabolite, the form a drug takes after the body processes it.
- In many cases, the metabolite is a watered-down version, but with kratom — and some opioids — the metabolite is a stronger, more active compound. Since mitragynine will break down into the more potent 7-hydroxymitragynine, you always want to stay mindful of proper dosing!
- Kratom is an excellent analgesic — nearly on par with opioids but with far less addiction potential than many of them. For this reason, it also represents one available option for breaking or de-escalating an opioid addiction.
- Because of how alkaloids function in the brain and body, kratom can be used as either a stimulant or a sedative. This is how we’re able to offer strains geared for either energizing, unwinding, or seeking some balance between the two. On top of those, smaller doses will be more stimulating, while larger amounts will be more sedative (relative to your limits, of course).
- Besides pain management, it can promote relaxation of mind and body and help you fall asleep when taken before bed. On the stimulant side, it can help deliver some energy and pep, keeping you alert and focused. A balance would work well for a midday pick-me-up: bringing your stress and fatigue down while keeping your mood and energy up.
Who knew that alkaloids were all around us, doing incredible work this whole time? Although kratom sounds exotic and makes some people a bit nervous at first, its active ingredient is closely related to compounds we’re all pretty familiar with.
When you try Organa Kratom, you’re getting closer to the source than you usually would. Our kratom isn’t a synthetic or a derivative — it’s all-natural, coming straight from the plant itself and going out to you, without additives.
It’s great, but don’t go wild. You should always take kratom responsibly and in moderation. Consult your doctor before diving in.