Studying Wild Kratom
Imagine a long, winding hike through the jungle, just you and your botanist guide exploring Thailand. Turning a corner, your guide stops and points to a tall, flat-leafed tree. Wiping away a sweaty forehead, he shares with you the specifics: division magnoliophyta, class magnoliopsida, order gentianales, family rubiaceae, genus mitragyna, species M. speciosa. These last two are familiar enough that you realize what you’re seeing. He smiles and you do too, standing in the shadow of one of nature’s most captivating specimens: the wild kratom tree.
Unlike crops of illicit substances which require strict planting and cultivation techniques to ensure growth, wild kratom trees are native to Thailand, meaning it grows naturally across the country and beyond. In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch to liken wild kratom to our elm, or oak trees. As such, it currently exists uncontrolled in nature.
Though if politicians in Southeast Asia have their way, there is a chance wild kratom trees could be on the decline in the near future. Since it is classified as a “controlled substance” in Thailand, Australia, Malaysia, and Myanmar, there is a small but worrisome push to cut down on kratom usage by getting at its source. The Malay government, especially, is moving to make kratom more illegal by reclassifying the wild plant as a “dangerous drug” rather than the less sever “poisonous substance.”
Coming form the other side of the fence, there are also groups lobbying their governments to allow medical research into kratom as a potential remedy for opiate addiction and other prescription uses. Regardless of the plant’s future, one thing is clear: wild kratom exists as one of nature’s most interesting and potentially invigorating phenomenon.
Furthermore, the practice of studying kratom to further our understanding of this mysterious plant has been predominantly conducted on the personal level. Of the official inquiries into studying kratom, perhaps the best known is a 1975 study conducted by one Dr. Sangun Suwanlert. In it, Suwanlert surveyed thirty self-described “kratom addicts” in Thailand. This study, though limited in scope and, by now, quite dated, offers some indication of the potential side-effects of long-term kratom usage, the most noticeable of which are a slight discoloration in the cheeks of those who chew large dosages of the leaf, and a decrease in effectiveness of the plant, leading to increasing amounts being chewed. Other reported side effects among the addicts included anorexia and weight loss, insomnia. Some of those surveyed also reported a decline in sexual desire.
Almost twenty years later, the Malaysian Ministry of Health went about studying kratom in a clinical manner. They surveyed over 50 people who reported having used kratom for anywhere from 1 to 20 years. Nearly all of those who responded said they were former users of opiates or marijuana who had switched to kratom. The group studying kratom also found that withdrawal from kratom was much less sever than that from opiates. Medical tests showed the subjects to be overall in good health, and biochemical tests revealed no significant differences between these kratom users and normal ranges.
As an alternative to an official study of kratom, today we have the option of reviewing the extensive discussion of the plant on Erowid, where users will post testimonials of their experiences with kratom, and discussions revolve around specific questions and comments about its effects, dosages, taste, and so on. Studying kratom, then, is as easy as logging on and reading what’s been written.