Ever heard of kratom? If you’re anything like us, you were kind of late in the game to catch wind of this au-natural herb from southeast Asia. For whatever reason, it just never really caught on in the “mainstream” the way that cannabis did, even though it’s likely been used as a medicine for just as long a period of time.
However, kratom has definitely seen a spike in popularity and prevalence in recent years, particularly among opioid addicts wherein it’s been a godsend in their efforts to wean off of heavy drugs like heroin, and/or prescription painkillers like morphine or fentanyl.
But how does kratom (pronounced kray-tum) compare to cannabis? Or more specifically, to CBD? We know what a wonderfully therapeutic remedy cannabidiol oil can be in terms of pain management, but many people out there claim kratom to be even better.
In this article, we’ll get into the seemingly never-ending discussion of CBD vs. kratom for pain, talking specifically about each herb and looking into the active compounds that play on the body’s central nervous system to relieve the pain sensation.
We’ll also discuss some of the more negative aspects of kratom (including its potential for addiction/withdrawal), and attempt to come to some sort of definitive conclusion in terms of the CBD vs. kratom debate.
Different Types of Pain
Before we can do anything, though, it’s important to understand that not all pain is the same. This is especially important when it comes being able to understand why kratom is better than CBD (or vice-versa) for a specific kind of condition.
Essentially, pain can be broken down into two main types: nociceptive vs. neuropathic. Nociceptive pain is the result of physical damage to tissue systems, and is what we likely think of when we consider something as being “painful”; i.e. when we cut ourselves, break a bone, burn ourselves, etc.
Neuropathic pain, on the other hand, is a chronic (as opposed to acute) pain that arises from the damage, deterioration, or dysfunction of neurons. In this case, messages of pain are sent to the brain and central nervous system, even though there may be no physical damage to any one specific area. This type of pain is prevalent in chronic disorders such as fibromyalgia, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.
As such, CBD and kratom, which each consist of different active molecular compounds, differ from one another both in how they relieve pain, and in what types of pain they effectively treat. Most individuals who have tried both will say that kratom is better at treating severe nociceptive pain, while marijuana (CBD) is better at treating neuropathic and neurodegenerative conditions.
What is CBD from the Cannabis Plant?
CBD (short for cannabidiol) is an active compound in the Cannabis sativa L plant, which consists of two major strains: hemp and marijuana. Marijuana of course is the strain that’s most commonly associated with “getting high,” but this is due to its high levels of THC, not CBD (CBD does not get you high).
Hemp, on the other hand, contains high levels of CBD and relatively negligible levels of THC. In fact, in order to be considered hemp, a cannabis plant must have a THC content of 0.3% or less. Most all CBD products (oils, edibles, topicals, etc) come from industrial hemp plants, which are considered to be legal because they are not psychoactive.
On a physiological level, CBD functions by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a 100% natural and endogenous network of cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors in the human body. The ECS has been found to exist in nearly every cell type, which explains its seemingly never-ending list of therapeutic remedies. In fact, it’s has been clinically proven to treat everything from anxiety and depression, to seizures and chronic arthritis.
What is Kratom?
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa), like cannabis, is an all-natural herb that’s native to regions of southeast Asia — most specifically to Thailand and Malaysia.
It’s active ingredients include mitragynine and 7-HMG (7-hydroxymitragynine), which are types of alkaloid compounds similar to those found in the opium poppy (morphine, codeine, and thebaine). However, it isn’t considered to be an opiate because its effects are far milder than that of the actual poppy plant.
In terms of strains, kratom is typically recognized as existing in three different types: red vein, green vein, and white vein. Red vein generally is regarded as the most potent of the three, and it works well as a sedative and general pain-reliever. White vein (Maeng Da) kratom, on the other hand, is more “energetic” and uplifting – it’s commonly used for focus and creativity. Green vein is a kind of intermediate between the two.
Functionally, the active compounds in kratom are understood to be opioid agonists, which mean that they work by interacting with the body’s network of natural opioid receptors. However, mitragynine (which is believed to be the key functional alkaloid in kratom) is far milder than any of the natural alkaloids found in the opium poppy. Even though they are similarly-structured on a chemical level, there should be no comparison between the effects of mitragynine and, for example, morphine or codeine.
CBD vs Kratom: Advantages and Disadvantages
Because kratom acts on the body’s network of opioid receptors, it does have a relatively significant risk for addiction and subsequent symptoms of withdrawal, if taken consistently and then stopped. Naturally, this is a huge disadvantage compared to cannabis (CBD), which is not typically known to pose any addictive risks.
That being said, the risk for kratom addiction/withdrawal are far less severe than those of other opioid agonists like morphine, which is the active component of heroin. Even if a user does develop a kratom/mitragynine addiction, the withdrawal symptoms (which can include nausea, sweating, loss of appetite, constipation, and severe fatigue/sedation) are extremely mild compared to full-blown opiate withdrawal, which has been known to be life-threatening.
The major advantage of kratom, in turn, is in its use as an opiate substitute. Many heroin, codeine, and prescription painkiller addicts have in fact claimed the herb to be the only thing which allowed them to kick their life-threatening addictions and wean off of heavy narcotics, without any severe withdrawal effects. In that regard, kratom is a veritable life-saver and is generally more effective than cannabis compounds like THC and CBD.
Also, most people who have used both herbs will say that kratom is more effective than CBD at relieving acute nociceptive pain, which traditionally would be treated with narcotic painkillers. If an individual suffered a severe car accident, for instance, or a broken bone, it’s likely that the subsequent pain would be more effectively treated with doses of kratom than it would with cannabis.
On the flip side, CBD (and cannabis in general) is typically regarded as being more effective for neuropathic pain, and for chronic neurodegenerative conditions like multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, as well as for seizures/epilepsy and for chronic pain stemming from cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
Also, it’s important to mention that kratom is not recommended to be taken daily, given its tendency to promote tolerance and addiction. A typical/healthy dose of kratom is anything from about 2 to 6 grams, but this is only once every three days. Anything more than that and the body’s tolerance to the active alkaloid compounds is likely to be increased, which will result in an increasing dose needing to be administered in order to render any of the herb’s therapeutic effects (thus drastically heightening the risk for addiction and withdrawal).
CBD, on the other hand, is less prone to heightened tolerance, and is generally very safe to take – even on a daily basis.
CBD vs Kratom: Methods of Consumption
The most common/preferred method of kratom consumption is simply stirring the powder into a cup of warm water and drinking it. Unlike cannabis, the active ingredient (mitragynine) does not have to be decarboxylated (heated) in order to be effective. You could technically just measure out about 4 grams of powder and ingest it by itself, but it would be near impossible to swallow. This is why most people mix it in with water.
Other methods of consumption/ingestion include making a kratom tea from the crushed leaves, mixing it into a small amount of yogurt, or stuffing the powder into capsules. Capsules are generally pretty effective in terms of efficient absorption, but they’re time-consuming to make and are actually pretty dangerous because even if you’re only capsulizing 1 gram at a time, the capsules are going to be big and difficult to swallow.
As far as CBD, the most popular method of consumption in recent years is simply administering drops of oil under the tongue, which are then held for about 60 or 90 seconds before swallowing. CBD can be smoked just like regular marijuana, but in order to get the medical/therapeutic effects of the compound without getting high, it would have to be a CBD-dominant strain like Charlotte’s Web, which contains very little THC.
CBD edibles and topicals such as creams and ointments have also proved effective, and are especially popular for arthritis and other forms of joint/muscle pain.
The Bottom Line: CBD vs Kratom for Pain Relief
The bottom line is that kratom seems to be the preferred herb of choice when it comes to acute pain relief from severe tissue damage (i.e. severe injury). Also, most anecdotal evidence claims it to be an incredibly effective opiate substitute, with the potential for painkiller addicts to safely wean off of heavy narcotics like morphine and heroin.
Unlike cannabis/CBD, however, kratom does pose an unfortunate risk of addiction and subsequent withdrawal, even if the effects are much milder than other opiate-receptor agonists.
As far as chronic neuropathic pain (pain that originates from nerve dysfunction/degeneration), CBD seems to be the preferred therapeutic remedy. This includes conditions/side effects stemming from cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, seizures, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis.
Also, being that it poses virtually no side effects or risk for addiction, CBD is typically regarded as the safer medication in the kratom vs marijuana debate.
All that being said, it’s important to understand that with either of these medications, clinical data is still largely lacking; it’s very important to do your own research and understand that everyone’s chemical makeup is different – while one person might find the therapeutic effects of kratom to be miraculous, another may find them to be entirely non-existent.
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