History of Kratom

It All Started in Southeast Asia

Some people in Southeast Asian history have chewed Kratom leaves medicinally to relieve muscle and bone pain, increase energy, boost sexual desire, heal wounds, provide a local anesthetic, and for other applications that people today would generally view with positive regard.  Kratom in modern times has proponents and detractors, the latter group suggesting that if something seems too good to be true it probably is; more specifically, that for every “high” there’s a “low,” for every up there’s a down, and that Kratom might come at some heretofore unseen (and publicly unacceptable) health consequence to people unwittingly ingesting Kratom for purported medicinal, anti-anxiety, or recreational purposes sans regulation.

On the pro-Kratom side there are many testimonials from Kratom users who’ve had positive experiences reducing chronic pain, boosting energy, and beating anxiety (not to mention recreational uses), and thus the jury is still out, so to speak with detractors pushing for more regulation — even banning — of Kratom and proponents suggesting the detractors dial down the anti-Kratom hype and stop bashing — and  trying to regulate and/or eliminate — a substance that does so much good for so many.   Around and around it goes. 

Mitragynine users 1,000 years likely keyed in on the plant’s apparent benefits (see above) and by extension the benefits of its alkaloids (of which mitragynine is a primary one) which also include reduction of inflammation, relaxed muscles, boosted mood, increased energy (more on that below), lowered anxiety, and treated diarrhea, and apparently worked as an intestinal de-worming agent in ancient Thailand. 

Hail Kratom!

The tendency for humans to key on something—such as coffee which, incidentally, is in the same botanical family as Kratom—or alcohol (which shares some brain-receptor-activator characteristics with Kratom) and to claim that the something they’ve keyed in on makes them healthier is commonplace. Think of wine drinkers proclaiming the pseudo-medical benefits of drinking more wine, or beer drinkers claiming their brew makes them healthier.  Consider, too, the 102-year-old geezer hailing “just a wee bit of Scotch in the evening” as being responsible for his longevity.

As a result of this tendency for people to key in on things they like is easy to see:  People drink coffee, wine, beer, whiskey, and take Kratom and, by doing so automatically lengthen their lifespan.  Just kidding!  As with most things, moderation might be the key.  But maybe even moderation is no good; perhaps not taking ANY of the above substances and eating well, exercising, meditating, and sleeping well is better in the long run.  But that all sounds pretty boring, most people would agree, so they give the nod to more Oreos, beer, wine, whiskey, fat foods and, oh yeah… some Kratom!

Hate Your Job? Love Your Kratom!

A friend told me in the 1990s he’d read research noting that the more mundane the job a group of people do—the more manual the labor under the more grueling circumstances—the more profanities that get uttered by the workers.  I think this held true for a few relatively hard-labor jobs that I held in my 20s; in fact we all laughed about it between uttering cursing expressions of such an extreme variety as we worked at our mundane physical-labor tasks that, in retrospect that language was just plain hard on our vocabulary.

That has me wondering, if you’re a person living in ancient Southeast Asia, you might find yourself performing labor-intensive and/or monotonous tasks that you dislike so much that they make you want to curse.  You might then discover that your dislike for the job dissipates—at least temporarily—when you chew those Kratom leaves that your boss’s privileged never-worked-a-day-in-their-ancient-Southeast-Asian-lives kids handed out like candy to you and your fellow hard-laborers in the fields.  Your boss, in historical Thailand for instance, probably sent some workers out just yesterday to round up the most potent mitragyna speciosa evergreen tree leaves around for you and your co-workers to chew (and they, themselves, were probably chewing Kratom leaves as they hacked and stacked the stuff to dry in doing your boss’s bidding).

… I can almost hear the dialogue in the Kratom echo chamber of yesteryear where a worker in the field is talking to a co-worker:  “My boss thinks it’s a good idea for me to chew lots of Kratom leaves every day at work here in historical Southeast Asia, and man, he finds some potent stuff!” And, if I eavesdrop on your conversations in today’s modern workplace where you and other young men are throwing freight in the warehouse or onto the loading dock, I might hear this statement:  “Dude, you should try Kratom; it totally jacks up you up and you can get SO much DONE!”  (Equal time here for modern-office workers and other business beavers:  Many Kratom users say the substance keeps them focused at work getting non-manual-labor jobs done also.)

Adding to the get-things-done condition that is associated with taking some strains of Kratom, it should be noted that the onset of Mitragyna speciosa (a.k.a. Kratom) effects typically begins within ten minutes and lasts for two to five hours, depending on how much food is in the person’s stomach when they take Kratom, the strain of Kratom they take, and the method by which they take Kratom. This quick “uptake” time frame made Kratom leaves a go-to stimulant that farmers and workers in Southeast Asia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea have chewed for centuries to give them extra energy to begin, endure, and/or finish projects.

Anyway, not everyone likes their job—today and historically—and some tasks are more physically or mentally demanding than others.  The solution for some:  “Fast” Kratom.  Especially the green (or red or yellow) leaf varieties that your friends or co-workers tell you will make you stronger, faster, and better, at least temporarily (never mind, for now, that for every high there’s a low—for every up there’s a down).  If modern literature from Kratom vendors is to be believed (and by the way, the written history on Kratom use is sparse but we know Mitragyna speciosa was first formally described by the Dutch colonial botanist Pieter Korthals in in 1839, who named it as such), then the relationship between Kratom hyping people up with extra energy, helping them put off exhaustion and sleep long enough to get tasks done is as real today as it was 1,000 years ago. If you view exhaustion as the weak link in your daily chain and you don’t want to re-invigorate yourself with sleep, certain Kratom strains are sold to give people energy and to make them more alert.

Is Kratom Good For You?

Little is known (officially, a.k.a. non-anecdotally) of Kratom’s worth or safety as a therapeutic agent as of 2018, since research has been of poor quality.  In February 2018, the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated there is no evidence that Kratom is safe or effective for treating any condition. Some people take it for managing chronic pain, others for treating opioid withdrawal symptoms, and some take Kratom for recreational purposes.

Kratom is a controlled substance in 16 countries and, in 2014, the FDA banned importing and manufacturing of kratom as a dietary supplement. As of 2018, there is growing international concern about a possible threat to public health from kratom use. In some jurisdictions, its sale and importation have been restricted, and several public health authorities have raised alerts.

“Recreational” Kratom

Ask some people what they’re going to do this Friday night, and they’ll tell you, “drinking beer.”  Ask someone else what they’re doing, and they’ll say, “going dancing at a beer place.”  Both people are going to drink beer, but can you guess which one probably has the drinking problem?  The dancer is going to go out and have fun—some good old-fashioned recreation—and plans to augment the fun by drinking some beer.  Meantime, the beer drinking person doesn’t much care where he drinks because drinking alcohol IS the recreation.

So, is it a bad thing that some people use Kratom “recreationally?”  That’s a topic for another day by another writer.  As for the context here, I’ll point out that, generally speaking, if you’re not using Kratom as a medicinal compound (as many people who suffer from maladies do), then you’re using it recreationally.  But even so, “recreational” use need not mean a person has a bona-fide Kratom problem.  Just like with alcohol, the use of Kratom can play a role in some people’s socializations—their recreations.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) stated in 2013, “There is no legitimate medical use for Kratom.”  Tell that to people who use it to treat chronic pain and you might get a different answer.  But maybe the DEA is correct.  In any case, Kratom has become popular as a recreational drug and has been promoted with claims that it can improve moods, relieve pain, and to help with opiate addiction.  As of 2013, kratom and key extracts have been studied in cells and in animals, but no clinical trials had been conducted in the United States.