Kratom is an evergreen tree that belongs to the coffee family and are classified scientifically under angiosperms. It is a tropical deciduous tree. The word “Kratom” refers to a group of plants that belong to the “Mitragyna” genus. The trees can grow till heights up to 30 feet (about 9.1 meters). They have been described to have many medicinal benefits. The leaves of the tree grow as long as 7 inches, having a typical dark greenish color growing in clusters and are heart shaped. The flowers are yellow in color. The tree is native to the south-east Asian countries including Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and is indigenous to Thailand. Kratom is available in various forms like powdered, dried or fresh leaves. Not much was known about the tree outside Thailand. But now, it has gained significant importance in the field of medicine worldwide including the West.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Kratom has been used as a traditional medicine by the Thai people for treating diarrhea since centuries. The tree was first described in the 19th century by a Dutch botanist Pieter Korthals, and was named “Mitragyna” by him owing to the shape of the stigmas resembling a bishop’s miter. E. M Holmes further named the plant as Mitragyna speciosa in the year 1895. The plant has been grown extensively in south-east Asian countries, and not in any other region in the world. The tree is also known to have mood enhancing properties.
CURRENT LEGAL STATUS
Kratom is still sold extensively online by several vendors safely worldwide despite bans in several countries. Thailand has banned the use of Kratom and made the possession of its leaves illegal after passing the Khartom Act with effect from 3rd August, 1943. This led to cutting down of any existing trees in the country due to the Act passed by the government, declaring it as illegal. It has been said that Kratom was banned for economic reasons and not for medical or health reasons. Many taxation issues have been associated with Kratom which is the reason to be believed for the ban.
Malaysia also prohibits the use of Kratom, that is locally known as “ketum”. The possession is punishable under Section 30 (3) of the Poisons Act, 1952. Australia has also made it illegal to possess any form of Kratom leaves or tree. Another country in Asia that has prohibited kratom powder for sale is Myanmar that has banned the possession of Kratom in any form.
In the United States of America, the use of Kratom is legal in several states, but some states have already made it illegal. Use of Kratom is legal in most states in the US except Tennessee, Indiana, Arizona, Louisiana, Wisconsin and Vermont as of 2015. These states prohibit use of any form of the Kratom tree or possession and is punishable by law.
Other countries permit controlled use of the Kratom tree. These countries include Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, Romania and Germany. Rest of the countries in the world have the use legal as of now (2015).
SCIENTIFIC AND MEDICAL RESEARCH
According to research, it has been found that there are more than 40 compounds found in the leaves of the Kratom tree. The compounds include several types of alkaloids like mitraphylline and mitragynine, and also good amount of anti-cancer properties. It is found that the content of such alkaloids depend on the height and location of the trees. The leaves have known to have good antibacterial and antioxidant properties. In August 2004, a research was conducted to test the long term effects of Kratom on rats. It was found that water and food intake of rats reduced significantly. Anti-depressant properties were noted in mitragynine after extensive research in 2004.
The use of Kratom has been linked to treating many stomach ailments like diarrhea. When tested on animals, it was found that the plant has analgesic properties and can alleviate chronic pain.
Some of the major compounds found in the leaves of Kratom are: