Preface: This article is part of a series where we’re examining different types of “nootropics” or ingredients reported to improve cognitive function. In the first article, we talked about the popular modafinil.
Kratom has been used as a stimulant and energy booster for hundreds or even thousands where it grows in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia. Anecdotally, kratom at low and moderate doses has been reported as a stimulant, helping people to ward off sleepiness and improve focus. At higher doses, it helps users get to sleep, a paradox which we discuss in this article on kratom for sleep.
Those anecdotes are now amplified as there are an estimated 5 million kratom users in the United States.
Kratom is a controversial substance in part because it lacks a lot of good scientific research. But a lack of scientific research does not mean there’s a lack of efficacy.
One such example of a substance displaying anecdotal efficacy and then later bearing out research to back it up is psychedelic medicine. This move from controversy to clear use cases occurs all the time in research. In fact, it’s kind of the point of research: to collect data.
As more research on kratom gets funded and bears out, we suspect we’ll see much more nuance in complexity in the messaging around it. As of now, it’s an individual choice to decide whether it can support us.
While we do not know the extent or the specificity of kratom’s stimulating and energy-boosting effects, we do know that there’s a long history of it, both in today’s users and historically. In Thailand, where it grows, the local cultures chewed on kratom leaves prior to work and hard labor.
This leaves a lot more to be discovered. For example, is the boost purely mental, or are there physical benefits as well? Does it improve focus in those who are acutely sleep-deprived, like in the case of modafinil, or can it be significantly effective for those who are well-rested as well? As of now, we do not have the answers to these specific questions.
This is why kratom needs more scientific research, and is why many organizations are pushing for this.
The other controversial component of kratom which places like the FDA and CDC cite in their concerns is the risk of salmonella contamination because it’s so unregulated. Being concerned with this would be like not drinking milk because if it’s unpasteurized you can get sick. Obviously, if you buy milk from a reputable place, like a normal grocery store, it’s not a problem.
Similarly, this can easily be navigated by only buying kratom from companies with transparent manufacturing processes and third-party approval. To that, the most transparent company, and backed by thousands of positive reviews from users, is Viable Kratom. So you definitely should NOT buy kratom from your local smoke shop or sketchy online store. Get it from somewhere that actually shows their process.
A key component of understanding kratom’s energy-boosting effect begins by looking at why this might be the case. After all, it’s clearly different from caffeine or a nootropic like modafinil. Broadly speaking, kratom’s effects come from two different alkaloids, mitragynine (MG) and 7-hydroxymitragynine (7-HMG). These alkaloids bind to receptors which we call the opioid receptors because opiates act on the same receptor. This gets to another potential use case of kratom as a tool for opioid withdrawal.
These alkaloids bind to the receptors and create a stimulating effect. And, this energy boost effect appears more prominently in kratom than other generally much stronger substances that act on the same receptors, like opioids. Green and white strains, as we’ll talk about more, contain lower amounts of mitragynine, and are used more for this stimulant effect. So that means that mitragynine either has a sedative effect, or 7-HMG has the stronger stimulant effect.
The different strains of kratom can be split into three categories: green, white, and red. Really, there are two “pure” types, whites and reds. Green strains are a blend of the two.
Red kratom has a higher 7-HMG:mitragynine ratio compared to white strains. Red kratom strains are often used for sleep, which is likely because of this different alkaloid concentration.
White strains have more of a stimulating effect, so if you’re going after better focus, pick up white strains with as little red as possible.
Viable has a white maeng da kratom that’s one of their most popular (and best-reviewed) strains of kratom. So if you’re looking to try kratom for energy and focus, that’s what we recommend. Their customers also report this strain as the best for an energy boost.
Remember, nootropics, caffeine, and other substances can have a place in helping improve your energy, focus, concentration, memory, and more. But the best way to improve all of this is to do the basics right. Improve your sleep, exercise regularly, and eat right. These are the foundations which you can then add to.