What is Kratom Made From?
Kratom in Thailand
Kratom, or Mitragyna Speciosa, is an evergreen tree in the coffee family native to Southeast Asia. It grows in the wild throughout Southeast Asia, regions where the plant has been used for hundreds of years. In these areas, it’s a traditional herbal tea that remains a normal part of life today.
For these cultures, especially kratom in Thailand, kratom is regarded as a natural energy boost and pain reliever.
In this post, we’ll discuss how mitragyna speciosa was discovered. We’ll cover what occured in the hundred years after. And lastly, how we’re still dealing with the residual consequences of kratom prohibition.
A Brief Tea History
In the 1830s, the Dutch East India Trading Company sent their official botanist, a man named Pieter Korthals, on a three year trip through Southeast Asia. During his travels, Korth noticed locals using the leaves from a local tree that, at the time, was unknown in the west.
He published his findings along with a detailed description of the tree in 1839. This created the first known account of kratom is the west.
Despite being historically relevant, Korthal’s writings didn’t spark global interest in kratom. The plant remained relatively unknown in the west until the 1960s. Separately, as more people moved to the US from Southeast Asia, kratom began appearing in local grocery stores throughout the US.
The plant remained in these communities until the early 2000s when it started to reach a mainstream audience. Within a few years, kratom had gone from traditional tea to headshop commodity. In many ways, however, this was still a golden period compared to when it came onto the FDA’s radar. More on that in a moment.
Kratom in Thailand
In the early 1940s, the Thai government attempted to boost revenue by placing a new tax on opium. Local farmers, many of whom couldn’t afford the new tax, responded by switching to kratom. For them, it was a widely available cheaper alternative.
It didn’t take long for the Thai government to feel the effects, and in 1943 they responded by banning the tree.
The important point here is not that the ban existed, but rather why it existed: kratom prohibition began out of economic and political reasons that had little to do with the plant’s underlying safety. Some historians claim otherwise, but the Thai government’s official statement at the time clarifies their true motivation:
“Taxes for opium are high while kratom is currently not being taxed. With the increase of those taxes, people are starting to use kratom instead and this has had a visible impact on our government’s income.”
– Police Major General Pin Amornwisaisoradej, 1943
With prohibition in full effect, any chance of kratom making it to the west was dashed. It would take over a decade for a team of US researchers to find kratom, sparking new interest in the powerful tropical herb.
Kratom Research in the West
In the 1960s, pharmaceutical companies began funding researchers looking for natural compounds that could be used in new drug development.
Their interest in kratom stemmed from a 1921 study where researchers isolated the main compounds in kratom, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Their finding led to the realization that kratom had similarities with the compounds being used in pain medications, namely morphine. As you already know, this research never translated to a commercial product.
Despite finding a theoretical basis for pain or inflammation relief, the pharmaceutical companies already had drugs that served that commercial purpose. In turn, the project died. After that, kratom fell off the map after that until the early 2000s, when it reemerged in the US in a commercial setting. Kratom finally had a home in the west.
The US kratom story started relatively uneventful. It could be found in some specialty herb shops but remained unknown to a mainstream audience. Even herbal encyclopedias in the west rarely mention the plant.
By 2016, however, its popularity had spread to the point that the media caught wind – their subsequent reports described a new opium-like drug being sold over the counter.
In turn, the D.E.A. and FDA turned their attention to kratom, launching a prohibition campaign that had one goal in mind: making kratom illegal.
Keeping Kratom Legal
It came to a head when the D.E.A issued a recommendation to Congress to make kratom a Schedule I Controlled Substance. Their stance was that there were no known medical benefits of the plant.
Their tactic worked in the past, with substances like cannabis. But there was one problem with their argument. They cited research showing people used the plant for pain relief as an alternative to traditional opioids.
The activists jumped on this, using it to show that even the government agreed it had some legitimate value. If Congress accepted this argument, it would prevent them from making it a Schedule I Controlled Substance.
Beyond the legal arguments, thousands of us wrote congress to voice opposition to the ban. All said and done, 62 members of congress, 1,175 doctors and legal officials, and over 100K citizens spoke out against the ban, and the D.E.A. withdrew their recommendation—an unpresented action that brings us to day.
Kratom in the US Today
Today, kratom is in a legal grey area. Even though it’s legal on the federal level, the FDA doesn’t believe there are any safe uses for the plant, and they won’t approve research that could show otherwise.
The federal government’s stance on mitragyna speciosa means that, for the foreseeable future, it will remain a state issue, much like cannabis today.
To finish up, it’s legal in almost all the US, with the exception of the following six states: Arkansas, Alabama, Vermont, Indiana, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
Even though three states are close to reversing their positions, the fight isn’t over. It will be a few years until the Kratom Consumer Protection Act—a bill that guarantees access to kratom—is signed into law in more states around the country (see legal status in your state here). We believe this amazing plant is on the path to broader society acceptance. And that future research will make the rationale even more obvious.
We hope this post helps you see that prohibition is not the result of a consensus within the medical community. In reality, it stems from the economic and political jockeying of various government groups. To us, this is all the reason we need to stay engaged in the fight to keep kratom legal.