The Southeast Asian herb kratom has gained popularity as a possible tool in the fight against the opioid epidemic, but there still remains fierce controversy and debate about the safety of the substance itself. Notwithstanding its potential benefits, kratom is still a drug, and it has its own effects on the human body. The question of how long kratom stays in a person’s system speaks to the need for more knowledge and care about using it.
Kratom and Mitragynine
The main active alkaloid (naturally occurring chemical compounds, consisting of basic nitrogen atoms) in kratom is mitragynine, which works by simulating activity in the brain similar to the activity that occurs when a person consumes an opioid. The main effect of this is a diminished response to pain, which is why kratom has been used in traditional medicine in the countries where the Mitragyna speciosa tree grows, such as:
- Papua New Guinea
The leaves of the tree are ground up and used in tea, sometimes as a medicine and sometimes in religious rituals. Other forms of consumption include chewing, smoking, or ingesting it in capsules. Under certain conditions of preparation, kratom produces a mild stimulant effect, which workers have used to keep fatigue at bay. The journal notes that there have been reports of various medical conditions, including seizures, psychosis, and even death associated with kratom exposure, but research and studies into the full range of kratom effects are limited. What data exists suggests that there are amounts of the drug that can be taken for antidepressant effects, as well as for stimulation and sedation, but a rash of emergency room visits as a result of recreational use has slowed the pace of clinical investigations into therapeutic uses. People taking kratom at higher concentrations report feeling a sense of euphoria, not dissimilar to that of heroin or opium consumption, which has been cited as a risk potential for kratom abuse.
One area of concern is that people who take kratom frequently experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to discontinue their use or if they go for a period of time without consuming the drug. As with any other kind of drug, the presence of withdrawal symptoms is usually an indication that the chemical compounds (in this case, the mitragynine alkaloids) are being broken down by the body. The rate at which this happens (effectively, how long the kratom remains in the system) depends on a number of factors, some related to the individual user (based on health, genetics, lifestyle, and other factors) and some related to the kratom itself.
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To get an idea of how long kratom stays in a user’s body, one of the considerations is the substance’s elimination half-life. Elimination half-life is a term used to describe the time it takes for the amount of the drug in the blood plasma to be reduced by half. To put it another way, after one half-life, the concentration of the drug in the system will be half of what the starting dose was. With the passing of every additional half-life, the drug is proportionally eliminated. Nonetheless, the time it takes for the drug to reach half of what the amount was remains fixed.
For example, if a 100 mg dose of an intravenous drug with a half-life of 15 minutes was given to a patient, it would take 15 minutes for 50 mg of the drug to remain in the system; it would take 30 minutes for 25 mg to remain; 45 minutes for 12.5 mg to remain; 120 minutes for 0.39 mg to remain; and so on.
How Long Does Kratom Remain in Your System?
With kratom, the elimination half-life is still not fully understood. In 2015, the journal of Drug Design, Development and Therapy published the results of a study that suggested that the average half-life of kratom was approximately 23.24 hours, which would mean that it would take almost an entire day for the body to break down 50 percent of kratom. Researchers theorized that it would take 5-6 days for kratom to be completely eliminated. However, the study was very small, with only 10 participants, and all of them were male.
At the upper end of the spectrum, the fastest half-life was a mere 7.17 hours, which would mean that the mitragynine alkaloid would remain in a patient’s system for a total of 1.64 days before the last vestiges were eliminated. On the other end of the spectrum, the slowest detected half-life was 39.31 hours, which would suggest that it could take as long as nine days for kratom to be completely cleared.
The study participants in the Drug Design, Development and Therapy experiment used kratom for over a year, which would suggest that people who use the substance infrequently or those who do so at low doses would be on the faster end of the elimination half-life spectrum.
Factors Influencing Kratom’s Half-Life
As with any drug, there are many factors that can influence how long kratom remains in a person’s system, and some of those factors have to do with the individual taking the substance. Age, for example, is a big consideration. Older kratom users tend to experience the effects of the drug over a longer period of time than younger users, which suggests that the elimination half-life of mitragynine is affected by the age of person taking it. The older someone is, the less efficient their renal function; physiological changes as a result of aging make the kidneys work slower, which can lengthen kratom’s half-life. Additionally, any medications being taken to address health problems that developed as a result of the aging process might have side effects on the kidneys, which in turn might affect how long it takes for kratom concentrations to be reduced by half. There is enough evidence to assume that if someone over the age of 65 uses kratom, the kratom in that person’s system will have a longer elimination half-life than it would in a much younger user.
The percentage of body fat in a person can also play a role in how long kratom stays in their system. Mitragynine is very fat-soluble, which means that a person who has a high body fat percentage will likely retain kratom metabolites for a longer period of time than a kratom user who has a lower body fat percentage. In other words, people with less fat will have bodies that can break down and eliminate kratom much faster since their bodies cannot store the kratom.
There is a possibility that the repeated use of kratom may lead to mitragynine being accumulated in the natural fat stores throughout the body. If this is the case, it would mean that even people with a low body fat percentage would be at risk of increasing the elimination half-life of the kratom they consume if those people smoke or consume a lot of kratom.
Genetics and Diet
When it comes to genetics influencing the duration of kratom in the human body, it’s a question of how the mitragynine interacts with enzymes and genetic markers. While the exact reactions are not fully understood, the Pharmacognosy Research journal (pharmacognosy is the study of medicinal drugs derived from plants and other kinds of natural sources) noted that kratom is metabolized by enzymes that are highly polymorphic, meaning that people who have certain alternative forms of a gene (created by natural mutation) that are associated with those polymorphic enzymes might not be able to break down the mitragynine inside the kratom. The gene mutations (which might be harmless in all other cases) might result in a poor metabolic rate for eliminating the mitragynine alkaloid, meaning that the elimination half-life becomes significantly longer. On the other hand, a kratom user who has optimal alleles could be thought of as an “ultrarapid metabolizer,” meaning that the breaking down of mitragynine is quicker than the average elimination half-life. Mental Health Daily suggests that a genetic test is worth considering to estimate how long kratom is likely to remain in a person’s system.
Diet can also influence the length of time that kratom stays in a user’s system. There is speculation that people who eat meals that are high in fat and who also take kratom will increase the absorption and the bioavailability (the proportion of kratom that enters circulation when entering the body and the resultant effect) of mitragynine. While the certainty of food intake determining the elimination half-life of kratom has not been fully researched, this has been the case for other drugs. It is theorized that food can change the rate of kratom absorption as well as how long it takes for the mitragynine to reach peak concentration.
As part of diet, hydration is also a component to account for. Kratom users who make it a point to regularly consume water or other appropriate fluids could unwittingly influence how long mitragynine stays in their bodies before it is eliminated through renal excretion. The more a person is hydrated, the better the rate of their urinary flow; this, in turn, might have an impact (even if only a minimal one) on the speed of excretion and the length of time that mitragynine spends in the body.
Additionally, the urinary pH (the acidity or alkalinity of urine) and renal function are other factors that can influence the rate of kratom’s elimination half-life.
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Kratom Strains and Drug Screening
How long kratom stays in a user’s system can also depend on the strain of the kratom that is being consumed and the specific variety of the mitragynine speciosa leaves that were harvested long before the kratom was packaged and purchased. Since kratom grows locally in Southeast Asia, leaves harvested from that region tend to have higher mitragynine levels. On the other hand, mitragynine speciosa grown outside Southeast Asia, or in greenhouses, might have negligible levels of the mitragynine alkaloid and perhaps no mitragynine at all. Kratom leaves with advanced levels of mitragynine will give users a more potent narcotic effect, and the mitragynine in the kratom will stay in their system for longer periods of time. Leaves devoid of significant concentration of mitragynine might have higher amounts of other alkaloids, but these are unlikely to show up on a drug screening.
On the topic of drug screening, urine tests tend to be the fastest and most accurate way of determining whether a person has consumed any chemical substances. Mitragynine alkaloids will appear on most urine tests, specifically the liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry tests.
Blood tests are not typically used for kratom detection because they only show if kratom has been consumed within 24 hours of the test being administered. Mitragynine concentrations can reach between 10 micrograms per liter of blood to 50 micrograms.
There is currently no evidence that kratom alkaloids can show up in hair follicle tests, but such tests may still be used to determine the presence of a drug. Hair testing has a longer window of detection compared to blood or urine sampling. While mitragynine can be mostly eliminated through the blood and urine to the point where those tests will not detect it, a hair follicle test will likely show even trace amounts of kratom remnants long after significant proportions of the mitragynine alkaloids have been metabolized or excreted.