In 2018, Kratom Spot questioned the lack of kratom studies. Kratom-related clinical trials could offer more insight into the potential therapeutic effects of this plant. That same year, the National Institutes of Health came to a similar conclusion: “There haven’t been any clinical trials (studies in people) to evaluate the health effects of kratom.”
So has anything changed since?
Yes! In December of 2018, the National Institute on Drug Abuse awarded a two-year, $3.5 million grant to researchers at the University of Florida (UF) College of Pharmacy. This grant aimed to bolster research into mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, the primary alkaloids found in kratom.
Furthermore, the UF researchers were so successful in their endeavors that they were awarded another $3.4 million grant in May of 2019, five months later. So what did they learn through their kratom studies? What data has already been published? Are we any closer to government-funded clinical trials using kratom? Let’s find out!
The 2018 Kratom Grant: What You Need to Know
Let’s take a more in-depth look at the two-year, $3.5 million kratom grant. Before the National Institute on Drug Abuse approved the grant, no government agency had funded kratom studies before. So let’s answer the question: what’s inside the kratom grant?
For starters, in 2018, the UF researchers estimated that between 2 million and 4 million people used kratom in the United States. However, they called the substance “poorly understood,” justifying the grant and subsequent kratom studies. Many government agencies also have a vested interest in the grant:
- National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
With this newly-acquired funding, kratom researchers were able to expand their teams. Because of this, “samples that once took two to three months to generate can now be available in just one week.” Furthermore, the grant allowed UF to create a schedule for kratom studies. “The next stage of kratom research involves identifying the pharmacology of its chemicals.” The “chemicals” that they refer to are, of course, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, the most prominent kratom alkaloids.
What Else Did This 2018 Grant Unveil Through Kratom Studies?
- UF researchers determined where kratom alkaloids go when entering the body. In addition, they were able to tell how they’re broken down into metabolites once inside the body.
- Scientists ran in vivo (in living things) pharmacodynamics tests using individual kratom alkaloids. What does this mean? It means that the UF team introduced individual concentrations of mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine into live rats. They traced where these alkaloids went inside the brain and what these alkaloids did inside the brain. This research was able to prove that kratom alkaloids bind to mu-opioid receptors.
- In addition, “the last main research objective is…to change a natural substance in kratom” to emphasize specific effects. It is unclear if this aspect of these kratom studies was ever finished.
The 2019 Kratom Grant: What Did It Do for Kratom Research?
The two-year 2018 kratom grant stopped short of approving clinical trials. Sadly, the 2019 kratom grant did not approve human clinical trials either. However, the 2019, five-year, $3.4 million kratom grant built upon the UF team’s previous research. While the first study focused on kratom alkaloids mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine individually, the second grant put kratom studies into a realistic context.
“For the first time, UF investigators will be able to compare the effects of kratom in its traditional form – as a tea made from fresh leaves – versus the way westerners consume it – as dried leaves.” In this way, these additional kratom studies examine the plant’s effect as a whole. When we take kratom products, we’re not only ingesting mitragynine, or 7-hydroxymitragynine. Instead, we’re ingesting a combination of mitragynine, 7-hydroxymitragynine, and the various other kratom alkaloids present in the plant.
What Studies Have Come from These Two Research Grants?
So have these NIDA research grants produced publishable kratom studies? Yes, but the research is ongoing. However, on October 20, 2020, we saw the first breadcrumb of published research.
The 2020 kratom study concluded that “In a controlled animal study, UF scientists found kratom…delivered significant pain-relieving benefits.” Of course, kratom users have reported similar benefits for years. Now there is a scientific study validating such claims.
And it doesn’t stop there. UF researchers went on to say that “Kratom’s pain benefits were also shown to originate from interactions with mu-opioid receptors.” If you’ll remember, the 2018 research grant gave researchers the tools to prove mu-opioid receptor bind with kratom alkaloids. This goes to show something we’ve known all along: the more federal funding for clinical trials on kratom, the more we learn of this plant’s powerful benefits.
In the 2020 study, we also learned more about kratom’s safety profile. According to Dr. Chris McCurdy, Ph.D., a professor of medicinal chemistry in the UF College of Pharmacy:
“What we learned was that across a wide dosing range – all the way up to the average human equivalence dose that people use – kratom was very safe and did not affect respiration or coordination.”
So while we still don’t have human clinical trials, we’re learning a lot about mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. We’re also discovering the differences between traditional kratom use and modern kratom powders, as well as kratom’s overall safety profile.
The Future of Kratom Research
In the last couple of years, we’ve made decent strides. Especially with continued funding from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, we can learn a lot about kratom and its alkaloids. Furthermore, we are now seeing scientists dedicating their lives to kratom research, expanding the field.
As we always say: the more research into kratom, the more we know about its benefits to our health and wellness. In addition, with more research comes more government and public acceptance. Right now, there is a lot of misinformation surrounding the plant. Misinformation paves the way for kratom scams, detracting from the legitimate kratom market.
The future of kratom research is up in the air. But if these recent kratom studies have anything to tell us, it’s that continued kratom research is worth our time, effort, and financial support. Time will tell what else we’ll learn about this amazing plant.