Mitragyna speciosa, or kratom, (pronounced “KRAY-tum” in the U.S. or “kruh-TOM” in Thailand) is a tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family. This tree is native to Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea, where it has been used medicinally for hundreds, if not thousands of years. There are reports that it can be used to help with pain, opioid/alcohol addiction, depression, anxiety, diarrhea, weight loss, energy, focus, and more. When consumed orally, kratom is said to serve as a natural stimulant in low doses and a natural sedative in high
doses, as well as produce a mildly euphoric effect that resembles that of an opioid. It is most commonly distributed in raw powder form, which is essentially dried and ground kratom leaves.
For starters, just to be clear, an opiate is a drug naturally derived from the flowering opium poppy plant. On the other hand, the term opioid is a broader term that includes opiates and refers to any substance, natural or synthetic, that binds to the brain’s opioid receptors.
It is important to note that although kratom triggers the opioid receptors in the brain, most users will claim that it is technically not an opioid. The main distinction is that opioids characteristically induce respiratory depression, while kratom does not (unless nearly 1,000 times the suggested dose is ingested). Nevertheless, respiratory depression is largely what makes opioid abusers subject to overdose.
Despite the cultural use of kratom passed down through countless generations in Southeast Asia, not much clinical research has been done and most of the information that is available today has only been available since 2012. That said, kratom is made up of hundreds of alkaloids, however, there are two main alkaloids that are responsible for producing the opioid-like effects. These alkaloids are mitragynine (pronounced mih-TRAH-jih-neen) and 7-hydroxymitragynine (also written 7-HMG). These two psychoactive alkaloids are shown to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that bind as agonists to the opioid receptors.
According to a paper published in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology in 2018, a team of researchers have discovered the lethal dose of kratom (in mice). They found that mice will die when they ingest 547mg (or 0.547g) of mitragynine per kgbw (kilograms of body weight). (Inverse.com, 2018)
Kratom powder typically contains anywhere from 1.2 to 2.1% mitragynine, meaning that one gram of kratom would contain about 0.012 to 0.021g (or 12 to 21mg) of this alkaloid.
To put things into perspective, take an individual who weighs 150lb or 68kg.
This 68kg individual would theoretically need to consume 37.196g of pure mitragynine in order to overdose. If there is 0.021g of mitragynine in every gram of kratom, that same individual would need to consume 1,771g (or 1.771kg) of kratom in order to overdose (which equates to about 2.6% of that person’s bodyweight). Even for someone who has never seen the raw powder before, it is easy to come to the conclusion that consuming a dose that large would be impossible to manage.
As for the other psychoactive alkaloid in kratom, 7-hydroxymitragynine, “none of the mice died
from oral doses of 7-hydroxymitragynine, but the mice given very large oral doses experienced
seizures and depressed breathing.” (Inverse.com, 2018)
Kratom is currently undergoing quite a few legal challenges all around the world. Thailand has banned the plant, regardless of its traditional backing by the people of Thailand. Many claim that the Thai legislator’s ban on kratom is an attempt to maintain their pharmaceutical opium sales figures. In 1836, kratom was reported to have been used as an opium substitute in Malaysia. Kratom was also used as an opium substitute in Thailand in the nineteenth century. This could be the motivation behind Thailand’s ban on kratom. Right now, any and all kratom business dealings in Thailand are illegally handled and controlled exclusively by Thai drug cartels. This is why 99% of kratom vendors in the U.S. source their kratom from Indonesia.
There are similar suspicions regarding big pharma’s role in influencing the current legal landscape of kratom in the United States. Doctors in Alabama (one of the states where kratom is banned) prescribe 142.9 opioid pain relievers per 100 persons, compared to the national rate of 82.5 per 100 persons. In case you didn’t read that correctly, yes, that’s more opioids prescribed than there are people in Alabama. (Joint Economic Committee, 2015).
In August of 2016, The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) proposed an emergency scheduling of kratom, classifying it as a Schedule 1 drug due to the proposed notion that the “drug” has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” This caused a major backlash from the kratom community. Kratom advocates publicly protested, signed petitions, and called on politicians in order to overrule this decision. The DEA withdrew its notice of intent to institute kratom’s active ingredients as a schedule 1 drug and decided to solicit more information. The reversal was an unprecedented event for the DEA which came about mostly from the 23,000 comments received from the public supporting kratom, a number that was said to have “overwhelmed” the DEA. (Speciosa.org, 2018)
Kratom always seems to be pending legislation in several states within the U.S. at all times. As of January, 2020, kratom is completely legal and unregulated in the vast majority of states, however, there are currently six (6) U.S. states where kratom is outright banned. It is important to note the following information about each state:
- Alabama – Kratom is a Schedule 1 controlled substance drug as of May 10, 2016.
- Arkansas – Kratom is a controlled substance as of February 2016.
- California – Kratom is legal except in San Diego where a local ordinance was passed.
- Florida – Kratom is legal in Florida with the exception of Sarasota County.
- Illinois – The sale of kratom is banned to minors under the age of 21. It is banned in Jerseyville, but is legal in the state.
- Indiana – Kratom is classified as a synthetic drug (regardless of the fact that it is 100% natural) and is banned.
- New Hampshire – Legal if you are 18 and over.
- Rhode Island – Kratom is banned in this state.
- Tennessee – Kratom has just been made legal in this state.
- Vermont – Kratom is banned in Vermont.
- Wisconsin – The alkaloids in kratom were classified as Schedule 1 in 2014 and therefore, it was banned