Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa), also known as Ketum or Kratum, is a tropical tree native to countries in the Southeast Asian region. It is a deciduous evergreen that belongs to the same family as the coffee tree (Rubiaceae). It was first formally identified by a Dutch colonial botanist by the name of Pieter Willem Korthals and was named as such because the first Kratom leaf specimen he examined had stigmas that looked like the shape of a bishop’s mitre. Also, Kratom shares botanical relation to the genera Corynanthe and Uncaria wherein some similar biochemistry is exhibited.
Kratom has been present in Southeast Asian communities for a long time, particularly in countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The leaves of this psychoactive plant are traditionally chewed and has been used in traditional or folk medicine to treat a variety of health problems. Scientific research shows that the plant behaves as a mu-opioid receptor agonist and is thus used in the management of chronic pain.
Approximately more than 40 compounds are present in M. Speciosa leaves. This includes many alkaloids like mitragynine, mitraphylline, 7-hydroxymitragynine, and mitragynine pseudoindoxyl. Mitragynine was once erroneously thought to be the chief active component of Kratom. However, later studies showed that this role is actually more likely played by 7-hydroxymitragynine. There are also other compounds in M. speciosa which include raubasine and some yohimbe alkaloids like corynantheidine. Rhynchophylline can also be found in Kratom. This alkaloid is a calcium channel blocker that reduces NMDA-induced current. The mitragynine levels in the plant’s leaves are dependent on various factors. As an example, the location of the tree affects the amount of the aforementioned component.
It is also worth noting that the human pharmacokinetics of Kratom has not been adequately studied and several traits including the protein binding properties and half life is not known.
While Kratom is indigenous to Thailand, the plant has been deemed illegal in the country for 70 years (through the Kratom Act 2486). This status was brought about because it was reducing tax revenue from opium distribution which is one of the sources of funds of the Thai government. Despite the fact that the implemented act called for the cutting down of existing Kratom trees, it was still found ineffective. Since the tree is indigenous to Thailand, its total elimination was virtually impossible. Also, natives and peasants continue to use Kratom in spite of the possible punishment. In addition, Thai culture also largely supports Kratom because as mentioned above, its leaves have been used medicinally by nomadic tribes in the country.
The plant is also outlawed in Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia and Australia. However, most countries still do not prohibit or control Kratom. In the United States, the plant has been deemed “legal in the United States but is on the DEA list of Drugs and Chemicals of Concern” by the Drug Enforcement Agency on their drug fact sheet. Also, several state houses have looked at the plant. In 2012, the Indiana House of Representatives made Indiana the first and only state to ban Kratom compounds, although the plant in itself is still legal. They merely added to the state’s list of controlled substances the two active alkaloids in the plant namely mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Another restriction involving the use of Kratom was also added in Louisiana by its legislature which imposed a minimum age requirement of 18 years old to be able to purchase and possess Kartom legally. Lastly, a legislation was also sponsored by Massachusetts Representative Daniel K. Webster in 2011 that aimed to include the compound of Mitragyna speciosa in the state’s controlled substance classification list. Kratom is still widely available, and one of best places to buy kratom would be online as there are many varieties and strains available.
The Transnational Institute maintains that the criminalization of Kratom is largely unfounded and is based on disinformation and economic factors. The group acknowledges that further research is necessary, however. Also, they stated that records that show any negative health or social effects arising from Kratom are unavailable. Furthermore, the outlawing of the plant is creating numerous barriers in pursuing research. The eradication campaigns in Thailand most especially made it considerably difficult for researchers and scholars to study the medicinal benefits of Kratom in depth. Thus, the group has ascertained that the criminalization of Kratom is unnecessary and counter-productive. Moreover, the group highlighted the evidence surrounding the health benefits of Kratom and raised it as a significant factor in deciding to decriminalize the plant.