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
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.
Specific to Mitragyna speciosa