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.