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Mitragyna speciosa, or kratom, is a tree native to Southeast Asia. The leaves are usually chewed or made into kratom resin, although they can be smoked. Kratom is chewed by day laborers to increase work production, and some people take it as a recreational drug. Practitioners of traditional medicine have used kratom for thousands of years to treat various health conditions. In Thailand, Malaysia, and Australia, kratom is illegal and carries high penalties for anyone caught with the substance.
Kratom is indigenous to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. It is part of the Rubiaceae, or coffee, family. These trees may grow to be 50-100 feet (15.2-30.5 meters) tall and have a spread of 15 feet (4.5 meters) or more.
Farmers, field workers, and other manual laborers traditionally chew kratom leaves for the stimulant effect. Its use is said to make work easier and more efficient, similar to coffee in the Western world. Long-term kratom chewers may use the drug 3-10 times a day. Between 10-30 leaves are chewed at one time.
Kratom resin is made by boiling down large amounts of fresh or dried leaves. The resin may be rolled into balls and coated with flour. As the kratom resin cools, it hardens. In this form it will keep for quite some time.
The resin balls may be made into a very bitter-flavored tea. Copious amounts of honey or sugar are usually added to help mask the taste. Kratom resin balls, if made small enough, can be swallowed whole.
Recreational smoking of kratom is less popular because the effects of the drug are not as strong. Some people combine dried kratom with tobacco and roll into a cigarette. Onions, lime, nutmeg, coconut or other spices may be added to the kratom-tobacco mixture.
Traditional healers recommend kratom for diarrhea, inflammation, high blood pressure, pain, or respiratory problems. Herbalists also report that a poultice of kratom resin may speed wound healing. These healers may give kratom resin to someone withdrawing from opiates.
Taking a cue from traditional herbalists, some modern medical facilities have started to prescribe the herb to opium addicts going through withdrawal. Some people who use kratom for this purpose may continue to use it long term. There are a few studies that suggest kratom may be addictive, but the withdrawal symptoms are less severe than other narcotics. Frequent, long-term users are more likely to experience withdrawal effects from kratom. Symptoms might include muscle or bone aches, aggressive or hostile behavior, crying and rhinitis, or a runny nose.
Chewing, smoking, or using the resin habitually may produce side effects. These might include jitteriness, weight loss, tremors in the extremities or tongue, nausea, and/or vomiting. Darkening of skin has been reported in workers who chew kratom while working in the sun. Pregnant or nursing women should not take kratom.
Thailand, Malaysia, and Australia have outlawed kratom. According to Thailand's government, kratom is weaker than morphine and less harmful than cocaine. Even so, the penalty for being caught with kratom is the same as being caught with cocaine — a death sentence.