what is kratom

While decades of continued prohibition may lead some people to think that Kratom has no therapeutic benefits. That is far from the truth. For centuries, Kratom has been used traditionally in many cultures and ethnicities as a source of medicine. Back then, the active ingredients of Kratom were unknown. People took Kratom to increase their immunity and strength due to their cultural and spiritual beliefs.

If we look at history, Kratom has served as an essential therapeutic resource. Yet, as modern medicine came to rise, the medical community failed to recognize Kratom’s benefits. This was partly due to a lack of scientific evidence. In this article, we will give a detailed overview of Kratom. We will talk about the different stories associated with it, making the substance famous in some spheres while notorious in others.

What is  Kratom? The early discovery

The people of Southeast Asia have been growing Kratom for centuries. They have had their Kratom farms. When the trees ripened, they would harvest the Kratom leaves, dry them, and consume them. Most people chew kratom leaves in the dry form. While others added the leaves to edibles.

Kratom is a plant that requires specific environmental conditions to grow. It grows in a very humid, moist, and hot climate. It grows mostly in the wet rainforests and jungles of Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam. It grows in regions which has soil rich in minerals and nutrients.

For years, the natives of these areas took Kratom as herbal medicine. The villagers took it to relieve stress, increase energy levels, and improve focus.

In Western Literature, Pieter Willem Korthals was the first person to mention Kratom. He worked at the East India Company, and in his narrative, he writes about his discovery of Kratom.

Later onwards, Kratom became a known substance in the literature as a substitute to substances that made you high. This is the very reason due to which Kratom is notorious in many countries.

Early research of Kratom pharmacology

Kratom has several phytochemicals that make it very difficult to identify each of its properties. The effects appear due to the alkaloids present in Kratom. These are Mitragynine and 7-Hydroxymitragynine. Several other alkaloids have also been identified in Kratom. This includes paynantheine, speciogynine, and speciociliatine, etc.

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The effects produced by these alkaloids are dose-dependent. At smaller doses, one will feel the stimulation, but larger doses will cause sedation. Around 40 alkaloids are present in Kratom. Of which the essential alkaloids, known as Mitragynine, are present in a quantity of 66%.

Mitragynine is responsible for interaction with the mu, delta, and kappa receptors in the body as an agonist. It is structurally different from most Scheduled Substances, which is why it must not be placed in the Scheduled Substances category.

When interacting with these receptors, Mitragynine produces potent analgesia. It does so by increasing the release of neurotransmitters that suppress the discomfort pathway. The half-life of Mitragynine is 3.85± ~1 hr. But users report effects for a longer duration. This could be due to the metabolites of the alkaloids.

7-hydroxymitragynine, another alkaloid present in Kratom, constitutes just 1% of the plant. Although it is present in tiny quantities, it has very potent effects. It is known for its fantastic antinociceptive activity. It is 13 to 46 folds more potent than the strongest analgesics like Morphine. This is so because the hydroxyl group makes it a more potent agonist as the mu and kappa receptors. It also acts at the Dopamine D1 receptors. It also interacts with the Serotonergic and Adrenergic pathways.

7-hydroxy Mitragynine has a shorter half-life of 2.5± 0.7 hours. However, the pharmacological response of this alkaloid is variable.

Speciogynine makes up 7% of the Kratom plant. While Paynantheine is present in 9% and Speciociliatine in 1%. According to various research studies, Speciosa powder is safe at lower doses. A little to moderate dose of 1-5 grams produces mildly pleasant effects and stimulant effects. A dose of 5 to 15 grams produces reliable uneasiness results and sedation.

Ketum metabolism takes place in the liver. Mitragynine inhibits cytochrome P450 enzyme activities. This means that Kratom can interact with other substances that are metabolized by these enzyme systems.

Many clinical studies state that the alkaloids present in Mitragyna Speciosa show an antidepressant effect. It also posses’ anti-inflammatory properties. It does so by suppressing the PGE-2 or Prostaglandin E2 in the cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2) pathway. Some authors claim that Kratom is a promising antioxidant. It may contain chemopreventive compounds that can help with cancer treatment. There are many exciting actions of Kratom, something that the scientists need to study in greater detail.

The Rise of Kratom in the United States

America got to knew of Kratom way after the West knew of it. During the Vietnam war, Americans learned about Kratom from the local people. The American troops didn’t hasten to try out Kratom. To their surprise, Kratom did help them have more energy, focus, and the ability to fight in a hostile environment.

On their return home after the ear, they brought supplies of Kratom. Gradually they built ties in the countries where Kratom was grown to ensure they get a regular supply. However, soon this discovery had to be uncovered. The rising cost of healthcare in America made it difficult for common men to afford them. This was when they started the search for ethnomedicine and natural remedies. Now was the time for Kratom to come to the surface. We saw a trend coming to life. We saw Kratom advocates sharing their experiences. This drew so much attention, and people without any reluctance chose Kratom.

This was a potential disruption to the health industry, something that wasn’t acceptable. And in less than no time, Kratom was under intense scrutiny. This meant more regulations and legislation.

During this constant turmoil between the health regulatory bodies and the Kratom Advocates, an organization known as American Kratom Association came to life. They started pushing for legislation. And we became an audience to the vast number of false propaganda and media reports about Kratom.

Kratom in the US today

As of now, Mitragyna Speciosa is a controversial subject in the United States for human consumption. Different states practice different legislations. In some states, Kratom is still struggling to win its legality battle, while it is banned in others.

You can check Kratom legality and legislation here https://www.americankratom.org/advocacy/aka-in-your-state.html. As you can see from the map, Kratom is legal in many states of the US. This is due to the American Kratom Association’s efforts and the Botanical Education Alliance as well as the Kratom community.

In 2016, the DEA announced that they are going to place Kratom in the Schedule I substance category. This resulted in a massive outcry from the Kratom community, as it meant that Ketum would become illegal to use. As a result of this announcement, the Kratom community signed a petition with over 145,000 signatures and submitting over 6000 letters to the DEA to denounce this.

Congress took notice of this and eventually intervened by writing to the DEA to postpone the ban and allow for comment. During which more than 23,000 comments were received. And of these, 99% were in favor of Mitragyna Speciosa. This was when DEA had to reverse their decision. They handed over the matter to the FDA.

The FDA is showing a bias against Kratom. Their studies are claiming that Speciosa powder is dangerous and should be banned.

The long battle of Kratom with the FDA

If you go to the FDA’s website, you will find many claims regarding the toxicity of Kratom. Most of them are not backed with evidence. FDA initiated import alert on Kratom in 2012 and then again in 2014.

Back in 2014, the FDA seized a large shipment of raw Kratom. And again, another such storage of Kratom worth $400,000 was captured in 2016. The same year another company known as Nature Therapeutics was attacked by the FDA, seizing Kratom worth $150,000.

FDA has been releasing statements against Kratom. It has issued several warnings to various Kratom companies. Some research articles say that Kratom has therapeutic benefits, the FDA doesn’t accept them though. This is why the FDA has been trying to bring down the Speciosa business.

On various occasions, the FDA did conduct some tests to analyze the content of heavy metals in Kratom from multiple sources. And the analysis did show that most of these Kratom products had significant lead and nickel, which are very dangerous. Regarding this aspect, one can only blame the Kratom companies responsible for adding these compounds in their Kratom products. It is a sad reality that many Kratom vendors do add fillers, preservatives, other toxic additives to their products to increase their potency. This, however, doesn’t make Kratom in itself bad. It means that these companies and vendors need strict regulation.

On another occasion, the FDA took strict notice of Kratom when a potential Salmonella outbreak was observed. Several cases of Salmonella were reported to different hospitals, and one thing was common in all the circumstances. The patients said that they took a particular strain of Kratom and started experiencing the ill effects. Now, this scenario was a significant drawback to Kratom. The reputation of Kratom was once again tarnished. This was Feb 2018. Investigators started testing the products of various Kratom companies from which these patients had bought either Kratom capsules or powders.

And the tests indicated the presence of Salmonella. The FDA had to work with these marketers to recall these products to contain the outbreak voluntarily. By May 2018, the cases of Salmonellosis increased to 199. This meant that most of the companies selling Kratom did not practice safe and hygienic measures while processing Kratom.

Again, this was something lacking at the end of Kratom vendor, not the Kratom product. The vendor failed to test their Kratom product before selling it to the masses. Nevertheless, this added a lot to the notoriety of Kratom. Which meant that the FDA had to impose even more strict regulations.

Kratom: A miracle or another health fad

If we look at our history, we have seen how Morphine was a bad boy all these years. We have seen how much new advancements have been scrutinized before they have been placed in effect.

Kratom or Mitragyna Speciosa is one of those substances that we did discover very early but which we are not accepting. With every new thing that comes into the health industry, there is a series of heated discussions. The only thing that can prove the health benefits of Kratom, its efficacy, and potency is more and more research.

We have come across so many reviews about Kratom that it has been nothing but a blessing. The recounts of many Kratom users indicate that Kratom does have health benefits, and it can serve therapeutic purposes. The scenarios are around Kratom have been very difficult. The addition of heavy metals and the Salmonella outbreak due to Kratom usage may make one think that it is just another health fad. Or even more, some might consider it highly toxic or dangerous. Our take on this is simple.

For everything that you bring to the health industry, you need to regulate it. Every drug that treats all your ailments have side effects. The very medicines that you take for hypertension can have disastrous effects on your GI tract. The very drugs that you choose for Diabetes can be nephrotoxic. But you still bring them to the industry. You still prescribe them to your patients. You even mention that long list of side effects on the leaflet with the medicine. Why? Because you see a potential in that drug, that is greater than the side effects profile.

When it comes to Kratom, that is what we want from you. Give it a chance. We are asking you for unbiased research. We are asking you to look for once in the potential of Kratom. Look at the therapeutic benefits of Kratom. Yes, like everything, like every medicine, it does have side effects. You just need to regulate the usage; you need to bring the standard dosage guideline. You can end all that Salmonella outbreaks, the addition of toxic substances to Kratom by sampling doing one thing.

Legalize it, regulate it.

The Future of Kratom

With the current restrictions in place regarding Kratom, we are not sure about the future of Kratom. However, we know that if you use it responsibly, you make a safe place for others and yourself. If you advocate strongly for Kratom, the way you did back in 2016, you can bring a revolution and what not. It is high time that Kratom users donate to the cause of the American Kratom Association.

All Kratom vendors must test their Kratom products before selling them. We must cooperate with the FDA and the DEA in any relevant investigations related to Kratom. Push for the legislation of the Kratom Consumer Act in states where it is still pending.

You decide the future of Kratom. It is in your hands to safeguard Kratom. Be a responsible citizen; take Kratom responsibly.

Recommendations for Kratom vendors

It is our responsibility that we do not add anything to Kratom products. That we sell pure Kratom. We must ensure that Kratom processing is done under hygienic conditions. We should go for proper lab testing of every batch of Kratom that we import. We have to cooperate with the FDA in instances that require it.

Recommendations for Kratom users

Please avoid overdosing. If you experience any side effects, please immediately report to your doctor. If you are suffering from any medical conditions, please avoid taking Kratom. Please do not mix Kratom with any other drugs or substances. Consume responsibly.


Kratom has been subject to a lot of scrutinies. In the past, we have seen instances where it was about to become illegal to purchase on an emergency basis. We have seen examples of various accusations from the FDA, the DEA, and other health regulatory bodies. There have been times that due to our mistakes, many people have suffered. Therefore, we need to take some steps to make Kratom a safe hub for all.


  • Camille Quintin

    Camille Quintin is a trained health professional with over ten years of experience in medical service delivery, basic science, and applied clinical research. She aims for the highest quality results to help professionals raise awareness with critical health literature. Her medical and health writing experience includes working with researchers at various European Universities and research organizations to assist in preparing articles for publication in international journals.

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