What is Kratom (Mitragyna Speciosa)?

The tree known locally as Kratom in Thailand is known as Mitragyna speciosa to biologists. Mitragyna speciosa is native to Southeast Asia and the archipelagos of Melanesia where its leaves have been used medicinally by indigenous ethnic groups for centuries. Traditionally it has been used to stave off fatigue and combat pain, to treat coughs and diarrhea, to treat sexual issues, and to alleviate opiate withdrawal, among others. In the twentieth century, the use of Mitragyna speciosa became controversial. Today the legal status of Kratom is in debate.

The Kratom tree is a midsize, evergreen tree, occasionally deciduous in some locations, It typically grows to a height of 25 to 30 feet and half as wide. The leaves are compound, evenly pinnate to be precise, with an even number of dark green leaves arising from a central stem. These leaves contain over 40 compounds. The forty-plus compounds in the leaves has caused Kratom to be used by local peoples to treat multiple ailments. It is a broad-spectrum medication, ethnically. The leaves are the focus of the current dispute.

As used by the indigenous people, the leaves of the Kratom are ingested green. They are placed in the mouth and chewed, often after the central “rib” of the leave has been removed. A typical leaf weighs about 2 grams and most habitual users chew between 5 and 30 leaves daily. Estimates for use of Kratom by the male population of southern Thailand on a daily basis range from 50% to 75% of all men. Those users cite mood elevation, sexual stamina, and management of aches and pains among the benefits from Kratom. As can be inferred from the many and varied medicinal applications for which Kratom is used, the large number of compounds (more than 40) treat multiple maladies.

The number of compounds found in Kratom leaves is notable. Its primary compounds account for its predominant use for analgesic relief and stamina. Additional compounds probably contribute to its indigenous uses for other complaints such as cough and diarrhea. Still more doubtlessly cause the known side-effects.
The primary alkaloids present in Kratom and believed to account for its psychoactive effects are mitragynine, mitraphylline, 7-Hydroxymitragynine, and mitragynine. All these alkaloids seem to behave as mu-opioid receptor agonists like morphine. Mitragynine was once believed to be the principal psychoactive component. Although 7-Hydroxymitragynine is present in much lower levels, it is significantly more powerful and is now suspected of being the principal component. It should be noted that the pharmacological effects on humans is not well studied. Because very few mu-opioid receptor agonists exist that do not originate from the opium poppy, more research would be welcomed.

Mitragyna Speciosa (Kratom): Legal Status


The use of Kratom (Mitragyna Speciosa) was banned in 1943. Since then it has been illegal to purchase kratom, distribute or even possess the leaves. However, as the statistics from Thailand would indicate, it is clear that local ethnic pharmacology and custom are ignoring the law. Consequently, at present, the Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board, is considering decriminalizing Kratom. Advocates point out that the original ban on Kratom in Thailand was economically motivated. It seems that a tax on opium to curtail the opium trade and raise revenue was not accomplishing its goal. Large numbers of opium users were instead switching to using Kratom to avoid the tax. The falling revenues led to passage of the ban on Kratom.


In Malaysia, the possession of Kratom, known locally as “jembalang” was made illegal in 1952 with a maximum penalty of 4 years in prison. At present, there is a movement in Malaysia to add Kratom to the list covered by the Dangerous Drug Act. That change would result in much harsher penalties.
In Japan, studies are underway on the pharmacology and botany of Kratom. The goal of these studies is to achieve the scientific ability to identify biological material from Mitragyna speciosa. That capability would then facilitate regulation of the plant and enable authorities to distinguish it from other psychoactive plant material.

United States

In the United States, Kratom is not a controlled substance, although six states have passed laws banning its sale and possession. The states where Kratom is now illegal are Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin, Sarasota County – FL, San Diego – CA, and Jerseyville – IL. Kratom is not regulated in Canada and the United Kingdom.

The legal status of Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is currently in a state of flux. Research continues on its psychoactive effects as well as on its side-effects. In the meantime, age-old customs and folk-remedies are sometimes in conflict with current law. And current laws around the world seem to reflect social and political realities rather than bio-chemical findings.

Medical & Scientific Research

Kratom, also known as Mitragyna Speciosa is a large tree native to Southeast Asia, predominantly found in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia. This plant belongs to the Rubiaceae family which is the same family as coffee tree.


A Study on 3-dehydromitragynine was carried out in 1986 by Ekkasit Kumainsita of the department of physiology-Faculty of science, PSU, Hat-Yai, Thailand. The research was a study on the fresh leaves of Kratom which led to the isolation of 3-dehydromitragynine through chemical transformations and spectral means. The findings of this scientific research were published in the phytochemistry volume 25-Issue 12, 1986, Pg 2910 to 2912. The objective of the study was to establish alkaloids present in Kratom. Apart from 3-dehydromitragynine, the study reported the presence of many more alkaloids.

A study in 1986 on evaluation of analgesia induced by Mitragynine, paracetamol and morphine in Mice. This study was conducted by S.Z Idid, M.M Shahimi and H. Yaacob to find out the antinociceptive ability of mitragynine in comparison to that of morphine and paracetamol. The findings of this study were published in phytochemistry Volume 25,-issue 12, 1986, pg 2910 to 2912. The researchers established that all the 3 materials produced notable analgesia. They concluded that kratom could possibly be a potential new analgesia that needed further study.


Journal of Ethnopharmacology has published a study in 1988 conducted by Colin J. Prast and Karl Jansen of the department of anatomy, university of Auckland Medical School. The aim of the study was to describe the main alkaloids in Mitragyna Speciosa. This study concluded that Kratom may be suitable for use as an antitussive, analgesic and a hypothermic agent. Furthermore, the study revealed that Kratom can be substituted naturally for methadone opiate addiction treatment.


A study on the long-term and acute effects of alkaloid extract of Kratom on food, water intake and body weight in rats. This study was carried in August 2004 by Ikram M. Saida of the Chemistry Department, University of Kebangsaan Malaysia and Peter J. Houghton of the Chelsea department of pharmacy, Kings College London. In the findings, the researchers discovered that acute administration of Kratom extract (about 45 to 50 mg/kg) resulted to decreased dependence on water and food intakes. Prolonged effects were realized when administration of the Kratom extract was done for two months consecutively. Furthermore, the long term administration led to weight loss. From these findings, the two researchers finalized by saying that Kratom might be of medicinal importance in the fight against obesity.


In 2006 pharmacological study of 7-Hydroxymitragynine extract from kratom was conducted by Kenjiro Matsumoto in 2006. The objective of this study was to establish the medicinal significance of Kratom as an orally active painkiller. The researcher studied the pharmacological-properties associated to 7-Hydroxymitragynine isolated from an ancient Thai Kratom plant to come up with a conclusion that this herb was viable for application as an oral pain killer.


A Study on the in vivo and in vitro effects of three different Kratom extracts was conducted in 2010 by Juzaili Aziz 1, Mohd Ikram Said-2, Mohd Nizam Mordi I, Sabariah Ismail 1, Sharif Mahsufi Mansor and Surash Ramanathan to investigate the effects of methanolic, total alkaloid extracts and aqueous ( 3 Kratom extracts) on Glutathione-transferase in rats. The aim of the research was to establish how Kratom extracts react with other herbs when given in-vivo (inside a living organism) & in-vitro (outside a living organism). The researchers established that Kratom extracts show a significant interaction with other herbs. They recommended that further research was needed to investigate its clinical significance in humans.


A Study on the total synthesis of Mitragynine and Analogues. This study was a Master Thesis done by Isabel Kerschgen in June 2012. The objective of this research was to demonstrate the medicinal value of Kratom. The researcher established that kratom may be a perfect treatment for coughing, muscle pain, hypertension and diarrhea. In addition, Kratom has proven to have strong analgesic effects similar to those of morphine and therefore it was suggested as a vital component in the cure of opiate addiction.

In conclusion, Mitragyna Speciosa has been used for centuries as a cure for various mental and physical ailments. These scientific studies act as evidence of great medicinal value attached to this ancient herb. Despite all the research done, much more is necessary before this plant can be applied in medicine. All the information provided is strictly for educational and informational purposes and according to botanical research. While Kratom (Mitragyna Speciosa) is recognized in many cultures, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strictly prohibits internal use of this herb.