Thursday, January 28, 2021

Exclusive: A Look At the Kratom Industry's Secrets

If you're even remotely interested in kratom, keep reading.  This article contains some bombshells that most users (and many vendors) aren't privy to.  I recently spent some time on the Double M Herbal forums, where I gained a whole new understanding of how the kratom industry really works behind the scenes.  And lemme tell ya, it was an eye-opener.  

Everything you'll read below is courtesy of poster gumbyke1, owner of Texas Family Harvest.  He has so generously chosen to share his knowledge for all us regular consumers which he didn't have to do.  I've linked to the original thread at the bottom of this post.  It's extremely long and well-documented--I've only covered the basics here.  I feel that all kratom consumers should read it as it challenges everything we've been told about the product we're ingesting.  

Strains & Vein Colors: Not What They Seem

We've been told that the color of the vein running through a kratom leaf's center determines its effects forever.  Turns out that's not true.  (I know, I was shocked too).  The vast majority of leaves are red-veined:  only 1-3% of leaves contain white or green veins.  They are referred to as "pucuk" in Indonesia and are younger leaves usually harvested near the canopy.  The effects are not measurably different than those of red-veined leaves, which are preferred by locals for chewing.  And in any case, the color of the veins wouldn't account for the dramatically different colors of the finished powder you receive anyway.  That makes no sense.  As for "yellow" veins and other colors, they don't exist in any real quantity outside a few freak examples.  

So where do the different kratom powder colors come from?  Drying method.  So-called red strains are dried outdoors in the sun, with darker reds being semi-fermented in plastic bags for a couple days and then finished in the sun.  Green strains are dried indoors or in the shade while whites are made in the warehouse by mixing crushed green + red leaf OR by partially drying indoors and then finishing in the sun.  The most common method for making whites is to dry leaves indoors for a longer period.  Bentuangies are fully fermented and dried outdoors.  These drying methods do alter the psychoactive effects by changing the amounts of alkaloids slightly.  Kratom drying is comparable to the way tea (Camellia sinensis) is dried to produce white, green and black tea with varying levels of caffeine.

Here is a photo demonstrating the 6 different drying methods:

Photo credit:  gumbyke1 of DoubleMHerbal forums

The "strains" in the photo come from just 2 different trees, btw.  Point taken.  As for strain names like Bali, Thai, Maeng Da and Hulu Kapuas, they're even more bogus than vein colors.  Totally meaningless.  In the early days of online kratom vending, they had some vague meaning but have now lost any semblance of meaning and are entirely based on marketing.  They may have some value in labeling different batches but even then, several batches of the same "strain" are unlikely to be the same material due to continuity issues.  

Safety & Contamination

Now for the more worrying bit--the part we've all feared but pushed to the back of our minds as we gulped down endless doses of kratom dust over time, trusting that what we're getting is as clean as possible.  The reality is less rosy.  

Kratom leaves are not treated like a food or supplement in their native Indonesia and are usually dried in bulk on the ground, often on giant tarps that stretch out as far as the eye can see.  Children, chickens, dogs & other various and sundry living things walk through and over the leaves as they dry, carrying all manner of potential contaminants.  Sometimes they are even crushed by hand or FOOT.  Don't believe me?  See for yourself:

Excerpt from local Indonesian publication (via DoubleMHerbals forum)

Some leaves are dried directly on the ground--no tarp--and raked into a giant dirt pile before packaging.  When you stop to realize how much demand there is for kratom powder in the States and how much work goes into harvesting, drying and packaging to ship it here, you start to get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.  It becomes clear that a majority of our leaf is likely processed like this before it arrives in the hands of U.S. vendors... and they have no clue.  Willful ignorance perhaps.  Yet there are still people who rail against the kratom lobby's attempts to put safety standards in place because it might raise prices.  Pffft.  

Mmm...earthy. 😨


Now we get to the third issue that's never talked about too earnestly in the industry:  potency.  It's clear to long-time users that overall potency has kinda dropped off since about 2017.  But why?  After the FDA tried to ban kratom in late 2016, the demand for it skyrocketed.  That's when things went to shit.  Well, it turns out that we likely exhausted Indo's supply of quality leaf and are now getting flooded with corner-cutting shit.  And the reason is that it takes years for trees to mature enough to produce quality leaves with high alkaloid content.  What we're getting now is largely from young plants.  Yes, age of the tree is the #1 determinant of potency.  

Back in the "good old days," there were fewer Indo farmers in the industry overall because it wasn't lucrative enough to go into the kratom business, but now everybody's getting in on the action.  Planting new kratom trees & harvesting young leaves is a breeze but climbing to the top of old trees in the forest and picking old leaves is not nearly as easy.  Small plants produce big leaves that can be harvested without harming the plant itself, as you can see in the picture below:

Young kratom trees with leaves of suitable size for harvesting

Adding to the problem is that Indonesians themselves are not kratom consumers, so they haven't a clue about what constitutes "quality" kratom.  The amount that's exported is so massive there's no way to quality check all of it even if they did.  We're talking thousands of kilos a week.  Truckloads.  Many of the lab reports passed off to domestic vendors are photoshopped or fraudulent as well, further obscuring the actual quality of the leaf being sold.  

What Now?

So what does all of this mean for consumers?  It's a lot to digest, that's for sure.  For me it means that I'll be boiling the HECK out of my kratom from here on out to neutralize any pathogens that might be present.  I also plan to seek out vendors who are more knowledgeable about their product, whether domestic or Indo-based.  Supporting the American Kratom Association is imperative for implementing farm-to-table quality and purity standards and tracing of how the plant is processed.  Don't hesitate to send any and all questions you have about these issues directly to them via email as they should have no problem answering them since they accept public donations.  Ditto for the Botanical Education Alliance (BEA).  They're our best--and maybe only--chance of improving the situation of quality, potency and safety.  

And just let me say, there are exceptions.  Not all kratom is processed in this unsanitary way, nor are all Indo growers and vendors shady.  Please don't take this as a condemnation of the entire industry.  But it should be a wake-up call about the risks of leaving it entirely unregulated and without oversight.  While we don't want the government involved, we definitely need more checks and balances within the industry itself.  

Thanks again to gumbyke1 and Double M forums for shining a light on this.  Feel free to chime in with your thoughts and concerns in the comments!

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