Friday, February 15, 2019

Kratom Starter Guide

Learning about kratom can be a bit overwhelming for new users but it doesn't have to be.  Common questions arise:  How addictive is kratom?  Can I take it with my medication?  What's a good starter dose?  Keep reading if you want answers to these & other burning kratom questions.

I'm a daily long-term (3+ years) user of kratom & have spent many hours reading studies & user discussions about the plant.  By no means am I an expert but have plenty of experience under my belt to help newbies looking for advice.  If you have any questions about what's written here, Google it.  I'm too lazy to provide links but have a pretty photographic memory despite my years of substance use.  👻


STRAINS & EFFECTS


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Here's how I classify the various types of kratom and their effects:

White & Green Vein Strains:  Stimulating, energizing, uplifting.  Coffee-like.  These strains tend to be more potent & require smaller doses than red strains & produce energizing effects that are somewhat like caffeine or yohimbe.  I put these in a totally separate category from red veins as they don't even feel like the same substance to me.  The stimulation of whites is generally more potent than greens, but it just depends on the strain, vendor & batch.  "Yellow" strains can consist of specially dried green or mixed color strains.  A few health benefits of this category include: appetite suppression, mood lift, increased alertness & focus, improved stamina & physical endurance. 

Red & Gold Strains.  Warm, analgesic, relaxing.  Opiate-like.  These strains require bigger doses & produce more sedating effects that are similar in nature to opiates like codeine or hydrocodone.  These are the strains you'll likely want if you're quitting opioids, alcohol or other depressant drugs.  "Gold" strains tend to consist of red-vein plants that are dried in a special manner, but check with the vendor to make sure.  Health benefits of red-vein & gold strains include:  pain relief, muscle relaxation, anxiety relief, reduced insomnia & depression management.

The vein color means a lot more than the strain name (i.e. Bali, Sumatra, Borneo or Maeng Da).  These names really don't mean much and are just used to identify a batch of a given strain sold by a vendor.  In general, Maeng Da & Thai strains are said to be more uplifting while Bali & Sumatra are supposed to be more chill, but it totally depends on the vendor & batch.  The best advice for new users is to get a sample pack or split kilo to see what you like best.

For me, red veins are where it's at.  As a former opioid user I have no interest in the racing heart stimulation provided by white or green-vein strains as they don't provide the warmth or relaxation that I'm seeking.  However, a tiny dose of white vein powder in the morning can help get me going if I'm feeling extra foggy & tired.  I find that I eat less & have more energy when I eat a little bit of stimulating strains throughout the day in addition to my regular larger doses of red-vein tea.  I make a new batch of red-vein tea every other day.

What about extracts & enhanced blends?  Generally speaking, they're not worth the extra price & the increased tolerance they create.  You will likely feel withdrawal symptoms much more strongly when using these forms of kratom without getting a better euphoria or pain relief.  There's definitely a "ceiling" on the positive effects with kratom, unlike oxycodone or other true opioids.  So stick to plain powder for the best balance of benefits & side effects.

And when possible, buy your leaf from a trusted online vendor instead of a smoke shop or gas station.  Why?  Because online vendors price their products more fairly & are less likely to spike them with unknown adulterants.  Brick-and-mortar sales of "bath salts" & "Spice" products are what lead to the banning of numerous research chemicals that were sold safely online in their pure form.  While kratom is a natural plant rather than a chemical, it's also safer to buy online than in these stores that market to kids looking for a high.  CBD products have also been spiked with deadly drugs in smoke shops across the country & are best purchased from trusted online vendors.  To summarize:  Don't buy any herb or supplement in a gas station or smoke shop if you can help it.


METHODS OF INGESTION


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Kratom tea (strained)
Kratom tastes pretty bitter.  There's no getting past that.  Most users choose the toss & wash method, which consists of putting the dry powder in their mouths & chasing it with a drink like water or juice.  This method can result in choking or gagging however.  Brewing it into tea is my chosen method.  This offers the benefit of killing any bacteria or other pathogens that might be present.  I boil my water in the microwave for 6 minutes before pouring it over my kratom powder in a styrofoam cup & then into my metal thermos to cool, where I drink the whole concoction--powder & all.  Irie!  If taste is truly an issue, capsules might be your best option.  You can also mix kratom in foods like pudding or yogurt, but beware of calories & sugar when choosing food & drinks to chase your kratom down with.  You don't wanna get fat & rot out your teeth along the way.  Kratom can cause sugar cravings for some people anyway, so don't let yourself get out of control.

Start with a low dose & work your way up slowly to see how it affects you.  Taking too much kratom can result in stomach pain, nausea, itching & vomiting just like a big dose of an opioid pain medication which is no bueno.  If you have no opioid tolerance whatsoever, start with .5 grams.  Wait 20 minutes & increase your dose by 1 gram every 20 minutes until you start to feel it.  Some people use teaspoons to take their doses instead of gram measurements.  If you do this, make sure to level off your teaspoons rather than using a heaping mound of powder.

I prefer to dose on a semi-full stomach so there's something to buffer the kratom; otherwise it burns & causes reflux.  But I'm sure it's more potent on an empty stomach.  Always drink PLENTY of water to wash it down so it doesn't get stuck in your esophagus or stomach.  This can cause a feeling similar to an ulcer--a gnawing, aching pain that doesn't go away until you've stopped taking kratom & drank enough water for a few days.  If this happens you might need to take a 14-day course of Prilosec to heal your stomach.  But it can largely be prevented by watching your dose & drinking enough water.  If you develop ulcer symptoms that don't resolve in a few days, such as vomiting black material or severe stomach pain, see a doctor immediately.


SAFETY & INTERACTIONS


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Are there any dangerous drug interactions with kratom?  Maybe.  It's not easy (or even possible?) to overdose on kratom itself, as it doesn't cause respiratory depression like regular opioids.  However, it might have some serotonergic activity that's poorly understood, which could make it interact dangerously with drugs like tramadol, SNRI antidepressants (Cymbalta, Effexor), 5-HTP or wakefulness agents such as modafinil.  It doesn't appear to cause problems for the vast majority of SSRI users, of which I am one.  If you take high doses of any Rx or OTC medications daily or suffer from a serious health problem such as heart or liver disease, proceed with caution when trying kratom.  It has caused rare liver reaction in a few users.  Common sense will get you far in life & with kratom.

Is kratom addictive?  If used daily, you will probably notice a physical dependence similar to what you'd experience if you took codeine or another low-potency opioid daily.  The symptoms of kratom withdrawal for me are indistinguishable from SSRI or opioid withdrawal:  severe anxiety, racing heart, fatigue, insomnia, cold sweats, low mood & loose bowels lasting for about a week.  If used responsibly, kratom can be a healthy indulgence similar to any other activity or treat.  Maximum 'safe' use would probably be three times weekly to prevent both physical dependence & mental cravings, but it differs for everyone.  Kratom is most effective when used in a non-daily manner--the pain relief & euphoria is just far more potent that way.

I wouldn't recommend anyone try kratom who is under 18 or doesn't have a good reason.  Those reasons would be health issues such as chronic pain, a treatment-resistant mental illness or an addiction they just can't kick.  If you've only smoked pot or dabbled in other minor substances up to this point, kratom could be a rude awakening when you realize the withdrawals are more 'real' than the cravings for weed or whatever.  There's no need to open that Pandora's box.  But kratom has a ton of medical potential for addicts & those with severe or persistent pain--physical or emotional.  Just go into it with an informed head so you don't end up stuck between a rock & a hard place. 

Kratom shouldn't be used as a substitute for prescription psych meds without talking to your doctor, as quitting these can cause dangerous rebound effects in addition to a return of your original mental illness.  The same goes for other medications.  Don't quit without asking a doctor first.  Kratom isn't a panacea & shouldn't be used irresponsibly.  If the medicine you're taking is working or serves an important function in keeping you healthy, please keep taking it.  The exception would be using kratom to wean off opioids, alcohol*, tobacco or street drugs.  We know this can be done safely as these drugs are inherently more dangerous than kratom for most people.  *Alcohol & benzodiazepine withdrawal can be fatal if done incorrectly.  Do not attempt without medical supervision.

As long as you are aware of the risks & benefits, you can make an informed decision as a consenting adult which is the way it should be.  Everyone should have access to something stronger than Tylenol for their pain without having to sit in the Emergency Room for hours & pay for something they often can't afford.  Kratom is that stop-gap between OTC painkillers & prescription meds and if used responsibly it can remain legal for all to enjoy.



Did I leave anything out?  What advice would you give a first-time kratom user?  Have any questions yourself?  Leave them in the comments!


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