The reason people use Kratom is for the physiological effects that take place after consuming it. Some of those functions react with the physical components of our bodies. Yet, other reactions occur on the mental level. Regardless, both instances result from the alkaloid compounds interacting with our central nervous system which produces physiological effects. The secret behind these effects are molecular compounds called alkaloids. Scientists have identified over 40 different alkaloid compounds produced by the Kratom plant. However, we don’t have very much scientific data to work from, as kratom studies are focused mainly on the alkaloids thought to have medical applications.
In fact, many alkaloid compounds are reputed to offer therapeutic benefits to the user. Helping to alleviate discomfort, boost productivity, and provide an upbeat emotional state. Still, there are a few adverse effects that can occur as well.
What Are Alkaloids?
In general, most people don’t know much about alkaloids.
Alkaloids are a group of naturally occurring organic compounds that contain nitrogen. They must include at least one nitrogen atom. A few have neutral and weakly acidic properties. The nitrogen produced gets used as energy. They also protect their carrier from predators. The compounds have a very unappealing bitter taste and they have trace elements of toxins. Still, there are lots of health benefits alkaloids provide. Some are even used for medicines—both modern and folk varieties.
What are the Different Types of Alkaloids?
Large clusters of molecules that contain at least one nitrogen atom are considered alkaloids. With its classification, we find scientists have divided them into three central classes. They are true alkaloids, proto-alkaloids, and pseudo-alkaloids.
Sometimes, we find synthetic compounds get coined the term alkaloids. Today, we’re focusing on naturally occurring organic compounds. We’ll break each one down in the list below.
- True Alkaloids: The most common class is called “true alkaloids”. Originating from amino acids, its nitrogen atom(s) is in the heterocycle – Like morphine, cocaine, and nicotine.
- Proto-Alkaloids: Another class of compounds are the proto-alkaloids. These molecules originate from amino acids, too. However, its nitrogen is not in the heterocycle. Some examples of these are mescaline, adrenaline, and ephedrine.
- Pseudo-alkaloids: These compounds do not originate from amino acids. They get placed under two major groups. You have the steroid and terpene derivatives, and there’s also a purine derivative class — caffeine.
Where Are Alkaloids Naturally Found?
Our planet has an abundance of chemical compounds it produces to keep our species healthy. As a result, some of those molecular structures can create rejuvenating conditions in our bodies. In nature, we find many alkaloid-compounds used to produce prescription medications. A few compounds have therapeutic properties but are not as potent. You can purchase those through over-the-counter methods.
Well, that answer might surprise you. Most come from plant sources, and the most potent compounds are used for medicinal purposes.
Another class of living organism that produces alkaloids are fungi. The “ergot” are a diverse family of compounds found in fungus. However, other types are found in specific species of mushrooms. The most common form of those molecules is the psilocybin alkaloid. You may know them as magic mushrooms.
Our last class of organisms is the most shocking. A few specific animals can synthesize alkaloids in their bodies by eating a strict diet. Without those food sources, the alkaloids are not present, though. We find this is some species of birds and frogs. Most times, those alkaloids are toxic.
Today, scientists have isolated over 20,000 alkaloids and they’ve only studied around 600 for their biological and medicinal values.
Found in Plants
The kingdom of plants produces the most alkaloids discovered on the planet. Out of the known 20,000 alkaloids, more than 12,000 come from plants. Approximately a fifth of known flowering plants produce them, but our society only pays attention to the ones with psychotropic properties. Those compounds provide therapeutic effects for the user, and that correlates to a monetary incentive.
Some of the more common alkaloids we encounter in daily products are caffeine or nicotine. Both are considered vices. We find heavy concentrations of caffeine in the seeds of coffee cherries (coffee beans). We harness that compound through roasting, grinding, and brewing those seeds to make pots of coffee. A large percentage of the population enjoys caffeine. However, some alkaloids get utilized by a much smaller fraction of people. Nicotine is one. We find it in tobacco leaves. That alkaloid acts as both a stimulant and depressant, providing energy while calming the nerves.
The most sought-after plant alkaloid compounds have medicinal value, such as the opioids found in opium poppies. However, government agencies guard those for the pharmaceutical industries.
Still, there are plenty of overlooked alkaloid compounds. Their capitalistic value is limited since they don’t exhibit noticeable effects on people. Nonetheless, they can play a significant role in our health in the long run. We’re slowly discovering the usefulness of other plant alkaloids like those found in Kratom.
Found in Fungi
Fungi are other organisms found in nature that produce alkaloids. Many of those alkaloids produce psychedelic effects. Recent research suggests some of them have medicinal properties, too. For instance, biotechnology companies have started clinical trials using the psilocybin alkaloid found in some species of mushrooms. It has some hallucinogenic properties, so, the federal and medical community shunned it for quite some time. However, that outlook has shifted in recent years. Ongoing research indicates it is helpful to combat depression and other mental illnesses. Oregon became the first state in the US to legalize psychedelic mushrooms.
One of the most famous psychedelic substances known to man is LSD. That chemical compound gets synthesized from alkaloids found in a fungus called ergot. It’s a fungal disease that can grow on improperly stored rye or other cereals. According to scientists, ergot evolved from one of the oldest discovered fungi. In Myanmar, archeologists uncovered a fossilized grass sample from 100 million years ago and it was topped by a fungus they claim is a distant cousin of ergot. Theoretically, there’s a chance that dinosaurs from the early cretaceous period ate it in their diets. Those dinosaurs may have experienced psychedelic acid trips—let’s see any Grateful Deadhead top that.
Found in Animals
Some alkaloids even get produced by animals. The Canadian beaver makes a complex mixture of chemical compounds called castoreum in its scent glands. One of those compounds is a nupharamine alkaloid. People have used castoreum as an ingredient in perfumes and food additives. Some Chanel fragrances contain it—among other leather-themed aromas, but you can also find it in some food flavorings like vanilla, strawberry, and raspberry. Since the FDA classifies it as a generally recognized as safe (GRAS) additive, manufacturers can classify it as a natural flavoring in the ingredients section. You’d never know that you were ingesting it.
Batrachotoxins are a class of alkaloids found in specific birds, beetles, and frogs. Scientists classify it as one of the most potent alkaloids in the world. The neurotoxic steroidal alkaloid is highly poisonous. The poison dart frog creates such a compound. It gets its name from indigenous tribes using the toxic secretion to coat the tips of darts for hunting or combat. The alkaloids are synthesized by the frogs using dietary sources. Some alkaloids produced by poison dart frogs have limited medicinal value. Epibatidine, a chlorinated alkaloid, has an analgesic potency 200 times stronger than morphine. It’s considered nonaddictive. However, its therapeutic dosage was too close to a toxic concentration.
What Foods are High in Alkaloids?
Lots of the food we eat contain alkaloids. Most of them have low concentrations, so the physiological effects from ingesting the compounds aren’t felt whenever we eat them. One such vegetable is spinach. It contains the alkaloid oxalic acid. The quantity of the compound barely scratches the surface in terms of measurement, but some foods contain much higher concentrations of different alkaloids. With those foods, you feel the effects with larger quantities. Here are a few foods with high concentrations of alkaloids.
Food Products Containing High Concentrations of Alkaloids:
- Coffee Beans – The seeds of the coffee cherry (what we call coffee beans) contain high concentrations of caffeine. Caffeine acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system.
- Chocolate – Cocoa beans contain two different alkaloids: theobromine and caffeine. However, the caffeine alkaloid is the most potent.
- Tea Leaves – The tea plant is another popular source of caffeine.
- Kratom – Kratom leaves contain over 40 unique alkaloids, but two perform their primary activity: mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Those compounds produce several different therapeutic effects.
Now, other foods contain alkaloids but in smaller concentrations. Here is a list of some of those alkaloids below.
Other Foods Containing Alkaloids:
- Bell Peppers
- Some Spices
What Do Alkaloids Do to the Body?
There are several diverse physiological effects that alkaloids have on our bodies. We’ll discuss more in the section below, but first, you should learn how the alkaloids interact with our bodies. The compounds work through our central nervous system (CNS). The alkaloids stimulate the brain with reactions to neurotransmitters and other chemical compounds.
Some alkaloids react or bond with specific receptors in the brain to produce various effects. For instance, some plant alkaloids connect with opioid receptors to disrupt the cells that signal pain to the CNS. That allows for pain management in our bodies, but you must be careful when utilizing such compounds. Take them sparingly. Several alkaloids that mitigate discomfort are classified as narcotics and lead to serious addiction.
Ergot alkaloids bind to the receptors in our brain. In this case, it’s the monoaminergic receptors, though. The connectivity of the ergot alkaloids with serotonin receptors creates hallucinogenic effects throughout the brain’s cortex region. That’s primarily how the psychedelic alkaloids found in psilocybin mushrooms function, too. Biotechnology firms are developing new psychedelic compounds derived from those alkaloids. So, more research is heading our way.
What Are the Practical Uses?
Several items that contain alkaloids get stocked daily at your local grocery store. For example, you can find alkaloids in supplements, dietary ingredients, foods, beverages, lotions, cosmetics, over-the-counter drugs, and prescription medications—along with more products than we care to list. The capitalistic appeal of alkaloids knows no bounds. That’s because alkaloids have numerous practical applications for us as a species.
Here are a few of the properties of known alkaloids.
- Antiparasitic – Scientists have discovered that some isolated alkaloids show anti-parasitic activity against drug-resistant parasites.
- Anti-inflammatory – Quinoline is one of the most studied alkaloids for anti-inflammatory activity in plants.
- Analgesic – Plants like opium poppies produce alkaloids with analgesic effects. Similarly, Kratom is another plant studied for the analgesic activity of its alkaloids.
- Antibiotic – Research suggests some alkaloids behave as antibiotic agents at the cellular level.
- Antibacterial – The antibacterial properties of alkaloids have gotten more traction in the scientific community lately. Those compounds show promise as components for the antibacterial drugs of the future.
- Antimicrobial – As antibiotic-resistant microorganisms continue to evolve on the planet, scientists have started directing their research to antimicrobial compounds found in plants. And they’ve discovered that some alkaloids are prime targets.
Are Alkaloids Good for You?
Now that you know more about alkaloids, you’re probably wondering if they’re healthy for you. Unfortunately, the answer is not so black and white.
Some alkaloids are beneficial to consume, and act as antimicrobial or anti-inflammatory agents, however there are other unhealthy properties exhibited by alkaloids. One of the purposes may be to protect the plant from herbaceous predators. For example, through an extremely bitter taste which causes the animal to find the plant unpalatable. Plus, lots of alkaloids contain toxins that react to the metabolic systems of humans, animals, and insects. But humans have a more complex digestive system, we can handle the toxicity levels of most plant alkaloids in small amounts.
Other alkaloids have medicinal properties. Out of all the modern drugs we use today, approximately 30-40% come from plants, and lots of them are synthesized from alkaloids. However, some get derived from other plant compounds. These include amino acid peptides, proteins, nucleotides, nucleic acid, amines, and antibiotics. The most potent plant-based drugs are derived from alkaloids and those are usually classified as narcotics and placed on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s list of Scheduled Substances. It’s impossible to obtain them unless prescribed. The reason for that comes from the addictive nature of those compounds. Let’s discuss that more right now.
The Dubious Nature of Alkaloids
Since we discussed the various ways alkaloids can positively affect your health, we should go over instances where they can be detrimental to it, too. The more potent the alkaloid, the higher the risk associated with it. Taking those compounds too often can lead to addiction. Stay away from large amounts or excessive use. Overdoses are possible depending on the strength. However, the therapeutic effects outweigh the risks when used responsibly.
Look at opiates. Opioids are the gold standard for discomfort management. Nothing else comes close, but the compounds are highly addictive when abused. Still, if you ever experience an excruciating pain that leaves you unable to cope with life without them, then opiates are a godsend. Only physicians can prescribe them, though. And with their addictive nature, that’s probably for the best.
Cocaine is another dangerous alkaloid when taken irresponsibly. Back in the day the Coca-Cola corporation used coca extracts as an ingredient in the beverage. They also used the caffeine from the kola nut. I’m sure drinking the soda back then was way better than any cup of coffee, but we soon discovered its addictive properties, and the company discontinued use of the coca extract in its manufacturing process.
With any alkaloid, you should always use the least amount needed. That goes for those prescribed by a doctor or used therapeutically from legal sources.
What Do We Know About the Alkaloids in Kratom?
Kratom is a tree that grows indigenously in Southeast Asia. Researchers have been studying kratom’s alkaloids to test anecdotal claims about its effects and potency.
Inside the plant, the most abundant alkaloid is mitragynine, which in many ways is similar to nicotine. In small amounts, it acts as a stimulant, but the compound can behave as a sedative at higher doses. Similarly, Mitragynine also has an analgesic effect, which is the primary reason scientists are studying it. They’re looking to harness its soothing properties for medicinal purposes. That is to say, 7-hydroxymitragynine is rumored to be highly effectively to mitigate pain, whereas Mitragynine must go through an oxidation process to synthesize it.
There are a few other Kratom compounds scientists are researching. Paynantheine, speciogynine, and mitraphylline all are undergoing study . Most of the others are getting little, or no attention. Most importantly, the therapeutic effects of the other alkaloid compounds appear to lack any commercial value. Therefore, the scientific institutions that study kratom often struggle to attain funding for their experiments. Also, the concentrations of those compounds exist only in trace amounts, which make them more difficult to study. Perhaps, we’ll learn more in the future.
What Compounds Are Present in Kratom?
So far, scientists have discovered over 40 alkaloids in Kratom, most of which exist in only trace amounts. Consequently, we know relatively little about those compounds. Luckily, some of these compounds are present in other botanical specimens at higher concentrations. That is to say, some compounds are more readily available to researchers than others. Right now, most studies focus on the two primary Kratom compounds, which are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Both of these demonstrate great promise for medical researchers. A few biotech firms have begun clinical trials on the isolated compounds. They hope to get the FDA approval should the results of their .
We cover those alkaloids in detail in other articles. We rarely mention any of the other ones since we have little scientific literature behind them. That means we cannot provide an accurate representation of them, yet. However, we’ll list a few of them below. And should more data come to light, we may create an in-depth post later.
Some Alkaloid compounds Found Within The Kratom Plant:
Which Kratom Strain Has the Most Alkaloid Compounds?
Currently, there are several Kratom strains. Some companies have over 50 selections available, and lots of kratom vendors create their specialty blends by mixing other ones. It’s certainly possible for every vendor to have a Kratom strain unique to their company. Therefore, it’s problematic to determine which Kratom strain has the most alkaloid compounds, and besides that, the cultivation of each tree can significantly change the alkaloid profile found inside them. Identical varieties can have various concentrations.
Regardless, the most popular strain on the market is Green Maeng Da Kratom. Consequently, many consumers claim its potency rivals all others.
Some strains simply contain higher alkaloid concentrations. Take the company Happy Hippo Herbals as an example. White Borneo Kratom has the highest concentration of them all. The company’s White Horn Kratom comes in a close second. However, customers continue to rave about the Green Maeng Da. In theory, the effect of the full-spectrum alkaloid profile within that strain may be what causes an overall boost in effectiveness.
Scientists Must Continue Their Research
Out of all the compounds created by nature, some consider alkaloids to be the most interesting. For example, they not only protect their carriers from predators, but provide applications for a healthy lifestyle. Some even possess therapeutic and medicinal properties for the user.
However, there are two sides to every story. Many of the alkaloids that show the greatest medicinal promise have adverse effects when taken in large quantities. Opiates are alkaloids with such risk. Classified as a narcotic, addiction is always a concern when taking opiates. Nevertheless, they remain an integral compound for humankind and led to the synthesis of more potent opioids.
Kratom’s are no different. Most of them have therapeutic behaviors and scientists are studying a few of its alkaloid compounds for potential medicinal applications. However, we’re a long way from any scientific consensus or peer-reviewed research. So we should all wait patiently to receive, digest, and comprehend the data as it comes. Above all, we won’t get a clear picture until a decade or two later. Long-term studies are just as critical (if not more) than the immediate results scientists can prove. We should always proceed with caution whenever taking such substances.
Recent studies have indicated that isolated Kratom compounds show promise as discomfort relievers. With any luck, scientific research can corroborate those claims soon.