Kratom, a substance originating from a plant that’s found in Thailand and southeast Asia, has moved into the national spotlight in the United States as well as Europe.
As an increasing number of people see the benefits it can have in their life, they also wonder if there are potentially negative side effects stemming from its use.
The Kratom Debate
There are a few big reasons kratom is being discussed so much right now, despite the fact that the people where it grows natively have used it for thousands of years.
First, its legal status is being hotly debated in the U.S. and Europe, and the DEA has gone back and forth quite a bit recently.
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Initially, in 2016, the DEA backed off their plans to change the legal status of Kratom.
At the end of 2017, the FDA stepped in and said they would be working on the legal status of the herbal supplement because of what they described as its risks, including the potential for abuse and addiction.
However, proponents of the herbal supplement say it is safe and is also an excellent treatment for conditions ranging from chronic pain to depression.
It’s also an especially relevant conversation right now because of the opioid epidemic that’s sweeping the U.S.
Opioids, which are a class of drugs that include heroin and prescription pain relievers, have led to a surge in overdose deaths in communities throughout America, and it’s proving to be a nearly impossible battle to win.
Kratom has shown some promise for many people as a way to stop using opioids, and to help with opioid withdrawal symptoms.
It’s also been shown as a VERY effective alternative to benzodiazepines like Xanax, Ativan, and
Opponents of kratom say there’s no proof that it’s safe, and admittedly scientific research is limited, but antidotally, kratom does seem to have benefits for people who use it, with a relatively low risk profile.
One particular area people have concerns about with the use of kratom are testosterone levels.
Men in especially question if kratom has the potential to reduce testosterone and trigger the accompanying side effects of having low T levels.
How Does Kratom Work?
Kratom is often wrongly identified as an opioid, which it’s not in the technical sense.
When someone uses opioids, whether its heroin or a prescription painkiller, the drug crosses the blood-brain barrier where it binds to certain opioid receptors.
As a result of this, the person using the drug has reduced levels of pain, but the functionality of their central nervous system also slows as a result.
This can lead to drowsiness, and it can also cause respiratory depression.
This depression of the CNS and the respiratory system is what leads to overdoses and deaths related to the use of opioids.
Kratom in some ways mimics the effects of opioids, but it behaves differently in many other ways.
While kratom does activate some of the same opioid receptors as opioids, it doesn’t trigger respiratory depression, which is one of the most severe and often deadly side effects of opioid use.
Kratom affects not just the opioid receptors but also serotonin, which is why it can have an uplifting effect on the mood of the user.
Kratom is also unique because its effects vary depending on the dose a person takes.
At low-to-moderate doses, which usually range from one to five grams, the effects are stimulant-like.
In fact, low doses of kratom have been traditionally used in Southeast Asia as a way for workers to stay awake and alert for longer periods of time.
At doses considered moderate to high, people tend to see more of the effects similar to opioids, such as relaxation, a reduction of anxiety, and a sense of euphoria.
At very high doses, which is typically more than 15 grams, people may experience sedation, also similar to using high doses of opioids, without respiratory depression.
Opioids and Testosterone
It’s not uncommon to incorrectly classify kratom as an opioid, because of its opioid-like effects.
That’s likely one of the primary reasons there is an assumed link between kratom and low testosterone levels in men.
Testosterone is produced in the adrenal glands and testes in men, and in the ovaries in women. Testosterone is responsible for helping people have a healthy libido, maintain their muscle mass, and for the maintenance of energy levels.
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There is documented research about the effects of opioids, particularly their long-term use, and low testosterone.
Testosterone is produced through various activities of the body’s endocrine system, and having altered levels of testosterone can lead to sexual dysfunction and loss of sex drive, and also have effects on muscle mass, aggression, and stress.
One research study found that testosterone suppression was present in nearly half of men using opioids who participated.
There was no distinction between different types of opioids for this particular study.
Results like these are believed to be linked to the ways chronic opioid use interrupts the normal functioning of the endocrine system.
Specifically chronic opioid use suppresses GnRH, indirectly reducing testosterone production.
This leaves people wondering, is this effect the same with the use of kratom?
Kratom and Testosterone
There is a lot of discussion online by people who want to know the effects of kratom, including its potential impact on testosterone.
There’s pretty limited scientific research on the topic, which is likely why it’s discussed on forums in order to see what other people’s experiences are.
For example, on a thread on Reddit relating to kratom and testosterone, some people say that they’ve heard kratom reduces testosterone, and as a result, they believe it also lowers libido and the ability to build muscle mass.
There seems to be mixed information if you’re looking at antidotal reports about kratom and testosterone.
For some people, they believe that kratom may have lowered their testosterone at least somewhat, but for others, the feeling is that it had the opposite effect and while they might not have a specific measure of their testosterone levels, they do feel they have an increased libido since they started using it.
Others report that when they initially started using kratom, it did have a diminishing effect on their libido, but that over time that effect was diminished and they felt like they returned to normal.
In other discussions of the topic, people report perceiving varying effects based on not just different dosages of kratom, but on different strains, as well as initially having libido problems when using kratom, but then finding that the side effect dissipated once they cut down on their dosage or changed the strain.
What’s so difficult when you’re relying purely on antidotal evidence as to the effects of an herbal supplement, there’s no way to determine what’s really responsible for the effects a person is experiencing.
For example, if someone takes kratom and feels their libido is lower than normal it could be related to so many other factors in their life.
It’s also interesting to note that historically kratom was used by the people of Southeast Asia not just as a way to stay awake for longer, but also as a sexual stimulant, particularly at lower doses.
Differences in Kratom Strains
Borneo, Bali, Indo and Maeng Da are all strains that users feel have positive effects regarding pain relief, and these are also strains frequently used to alleviate the symptoms of opiate withdrawal.
For psychological effects, such as the relief of symptoms related to depression and anxiety people often opt for Green Malaysian, Thai or Maeng Da strains.
Green Malaysian and Thai strains have anecdotally been helpful for improving cognition including energy and focus.
For stimulating effects, usually Thai variations with white and green veins are preferred.
The red vein Borneo strain, on the other hand, is believed to be most potent as a pain reliever, and also as a sedative.
So what can be derived from all of this information?
Does kratom have a negative effect on testosterone?
There are a few things to consider.
At high doses, since kratom does tend to act much like an opioid, what could be happening for people who feel like they’re experiencing low libido is that they’re actually just having lower overall levels of physiological arousal.
This would likely be a temporary side effect of using kratom, and the higher the dose, the more its sedative effects and the more likely you are to have a lower sense of overall arousal, not just as it relates to libido and sex drive, but to all areas of functionality.
You’re probably also more likely to have this side effect occur not just with high doses, but with strains like Borneo.
There is also some research showing that any substance that’s opioid-like in that it acts on certain opioid receptors can change something called gonadal function, which can then lead to lower levels of testosterone production.
For people who feel like they could be experiencing these side effects, changing the strains of kratom they use or lowering their dose is often adequate to reduce these symptoms or eliminate them.
Summing Up—How Does Kratom Affect Testosterone?
It can seem like there are mixed ideas as to whether or not kratom can affect testosterone production, particularly in men.
This is because of the significant differences in individuals but also because of how the effects of kratom can vary based on the dosage and type.
There is also no scientific evidence available currently indicating that kratom affects testosterone.
At lower doses, since kratom acts as a stimulant, not only is it unlikely to affect testosterone levels, but it is also possible that it could increase libido and sex drive in people.
It could also indirectly affect libido, by making a person feel happier and more social because of how it affects certain brain chemicals like serotonin.
At higher doses kratom acts more as a sedative similar to an opioid, and while people may have lower libido and energy levels when they take it at high doses, it’s very unlikely that they’re actually experiencing a reduction in testosterone production.
Instead, what could lead to these effects is the fact that the kratom is depressing certain functions of the user, which is a temporary effect that will ultimately subside, especially if someone lowers the dose they’re taking or uses a different strain.
It should also be noted that the National Institute on Drug Abuse doesn’t name sexual dysfunction, reduced libido or lower testosterone production as possible side effects of kratom.
The NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse describes kratom as being used for its mood-lifting effects, for pain relief and even as an aphrodisiac.
There’s still a lot of research that needs to be done on kratom in a clinical setting in order to determine its specific effects based on controlled variables, although antidotally some people feel like it’s a miracle herbal supplement that can help alleviate mental and physical symptoms ranging from anxiety and depression to chronic pain.
The fact that kratom doesn’t appear to cause respiratory depression is leading many researchers to look at it as part of battling the deadly opioid epidemic, but the herbal supplement likely has promise beyond just helping reduce opioid usage, despite some regulatory pushback.
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