What is Kratom?

There is no doubt that plants are a fascinating and integral part of our environment. Aside from playing the essential role of balancing nature and life, they also beautify our surrounding. Think about it; there is just something amazingly extraordinary and serene about standing in a dense forest and taking in all the natural, pleasant smells, and dizzying heights Plants have intrigued the scientific community for centuries due to their therapeutic potential and scientific breakthroughs. One of these fascinating, yet highly controversial plants is Mitragyna Speciosa or better known as Kratom.

Botanical Description

While commonly known as Kratom, Kratum or Ketum, its scientific name is Mitragyna Speciosa. It belongs to the Mitragyna species and is a member of the Rubiaceae family. Apart from South East Asia, it is also found in some African regions. While the Asian species are typically predominant in the rain forests, the African species which are still categorized in a separate genus and are mostly observed in swampy areas. The majority of this species are arborescent (treelike in growth or appearance), with some peaking to a majestic height of as high as 30 meters.

The Kratom tree has an average height of fifteen meters, while the ground covers around four and a half meters. It has a robust stem that stands firmly and branches out. The flowers are yellow while the leaves are dark green and feature an ovate, acuminate shape that is hard to miss. Since this plant is evergreen more than deciduous, the leaves are frequently shed then replaced. The changing environment is what causes the quasi-seasonal leaf shedding. Leaf shading becomes more rampant and abundant during the dry season while plenty of new growth happens during the rainy season. If this plant is grown outside tropical conditions, shedding of leaves will only take place when the temperature is above four degrees Celsius.

Kratom plant can naturally be grown using the seeds, provided they are fresh. The rate of germination typically hovers from around twenty to thirty percent and once the seeds have been germinated the seedlings to grow to a height of fifteen to around twenty feet. As mentioned earlier, the leaves are typically dark green and glossy with an ovate, acuminate shape. Although it is relatively easy finding kratom for sale, finding seeds could be difficult and growing the plant is not recommended due to the sensitive nature of this plant. Additionally, these leaves also feature an opposite growth pattern, coupled with twelve to seventeen pairs of veins and can grow to over twenty centimeters long and fifteen centimeters wide when fully open. The yellow flowers, on the other hand, grow in clusters of three at the far end of the branches. On the other hand, the calyx-tube is two millimeter long and has five lobes, while the corolla tube is around three millimeters. This tree prefers a moist environment coupled with nitrogen-rich soils in a protected position. As an extremely heavy feeder, the growing plant will need fertile soil consistently. Additionally, this tree is also extremely sensitive to drought and frost. This being said, buying kratom powder is recommended instead of growing the plant yourself.

Kratom History

One of the earliest mentions of Mitragyna Speciosa was first formally introduced and described to the Western World by a Dutch Colonial botanist known as Pieter Korthals in 1839. Peter thought the shape of this plant resembled a Bishop’s miter, thus naming the tree Mitragyna. Although his original work is extremely hard to find, it is still available in a few libraries around the world. What fascinated the most about Kratom was its popularity among the locals, as well as the tradition surrounding it.

Chemistry

The fundamental structure and chemistry of the Kratom plant integrated into the nucleus of the Tryptamine, which is responsible for the molecules that are observed in serotonin and adrenergic systems. Keep in mind that the pharmacokinetics in human beings have not been studied extensively, leaving very little data on the subject. Important factors such as the half-life, protein binding property, metabolism, and elimination are yet to be well studied. The chemistry mentioned in this article mostly features what is found on the leaves of the Kratom plant.

Numerous reliable chemical studies on the structure of this indigenous plant have uncovered that it distantly resembles the chemical structure of psilocybin. Although the structure is similar, there is no proof of any psychedelic activity in Mitragyna Speciosa. Research has also ascertained that this plant has structurally related alkaloids as well as terpenoid saponins, flavonoids, polyphenols and several glycosides. The compounds found in its structure include Ajmalicine, Corynantheidin, Corynoxein, 3-Dehydromitragynin, 3-Isopaynanthein, Isomitraphyllin, Isospecionoxein, Mitraciliatin, Mitragynalin, Mitraphylline, Mitraspecin, Speciofolin, Speciogynin, Speciogynin, Speciofolin, Stipulatin, 7-acetoxymitragynine, Corinoxin, Epicatechin, Isospeciofolin, Mitrafolin, Mitraversin, Speciociliatin, Specionoxein, Paynanthein, and 3-Isocorynantheidi. It is important to note that the chemical composition varies and is unspecified since it largely depends on the age, environment and even the time of harvest. On the other hand, the total alkaloid concentration in the dried leaves ranges from around 0.5 to 1.5%. Most researched alkaloids and that of highest significance are 7-Hydroxymitragynine, Mitragynine and Epicatechin.

7-Hydroxymitragynine

This is the most potent chemical ingredient present in the Kratom tinctures and has been found to contain opioid agonistic activity. 7-Hydroxymitragynine according to extensive research has more potency, almost 30-fold higher than that Mitragynine and this makes it the most active chemical among all the others. This puts Mitragynine, the previously assumed main active chemical in the second position. Although 7-Hydroxymitragynine typically interacts with the three major opioid sites Mu, Delta, and Kappa; it preferably binds to Mu receptors which are responsible for the effects Kratom is known for. Its molecular formula is C23H30N2O5, and the molecular weight is 414.50 g/mol.

Mitragynine

This chemical is also contained in Kratom in extremely high percentages. It is an indole alkaloid that was first isolated in 1907 by D.Hooper. It has been shown to be adrenergic at lower doses while on the other hand in very high doses it acts on the delta and mu opiate receptors. The Molecular Formula- C23H30N2O4 while the molecular weight is 398.50 g/mol

On its own Mitragynine primarily acts through opioid receptors and produces an oxidation product known as mitragynine-pseudoindoxyl which is a major component of Kratom that is stored or has aged for an extended period. Although research proves that the structure of Mitragynine is similar to that of Psilocybin, it does not particularly induce any psychedelic effects on the brain of living organisms. It is important to keep in mind that the amount of Mitragynine will vary according to the tree’s location, age, and strain. It has been proven that trees that are grown in South East Asia are most likely to contain higher amounts. This can be attributed to the specific climatic conditions of this region. In Thailand varieties, Mitragynine is up to 66% while in 7-hydroxymitragynine is at lower concentrations of around 12%. Mitragynine is not soluble in water and does not dissolve in conventional organic solvents including acetic acid, acetone, alcohols, and diethyl ether providing fluorescent solutions. It distils at a temperature 200-240 degrees centigrade at 5mmHg.

Epicatechin

This is another component of Kratom that is still being extensively researched. This particular component is a real-all rounder that studies show has a potential of reducing the effect of real radicals. Although Epicatechin is found in relatively high concentrations as compared to the other chemicals, research on it is still very limited. Scientists and botanists agree that more research needs to be carried out to provide more accurate details about the structure. Most of the alkaloid varieties present in this plant’s structure still call for further experimentation and studies to investigate their specific activity, effects, and the potential applications.

Kratom Legality

Although Kratom advocates and many medical professionals around the globe consider Kratom to a tremendously useful asset due to the potential medicinal effects, some countries such as the United States have prohibited human consumption of this plant, and with very good reason. Although you can buy kratom legally, policy makers have put these laws in place with the intention of ensuring people do not face detrimental side effects that will put their health in jeopardy. While there are 196 countries around the world, four have explicitly banned this indigenous plant by declaring it completely illegal for all purposes. On the other hand, ten countries impose extreme regulations; meaning Kratom is criminalized and often labeled a scheduled drug.

United States Laws

Despite heavy pushes by the DEA and FDA to make this plant illegal in the United States, it remains legal in the majority of states throughout the United States. Different states have different regulations when it comes to this highly controversial plant. In each of these states, the bill is worded differently. While some ban it out rightly, others only ban specific alkaloids contained in the plant. States that have bills that declare Kratom illegal include Wisconsin, Vermont, Indiana, Tennessee and Arkansas. Remaining states Kratom is still legal though states such as Iowa, New York, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Georgia are seeking amendments to make it illegal.

The DEA and FDA have never formally criminalized Kratom, however, in August of 2016, the DEA expressly issued a notice of intent to temporarily classify the two psychoactive chemicals contained in this plant as schedule 1 drugs, Mitragynine and 7-Hydroxymitragynine. What is a Schedule 1 Drug? A Schedule 1 drug is a one that has a high potential for abuse, affinity to addiction and also has the potential to create severe psychological or physical dependence. This proposal was met with hostility by Kratom advocates who are convinced that this plant could be useful. This notice of intent by the DEA was temporarily withdrawn, citing numerous comments received from members of the public as well as the need to a detailed and extensive medical and scientific evaluation by the FDA. Apparently, the FDA will be actively soliciting comments from the general public. In fact, an official document announcing the solicitation and withdrawal is available at Federal Register. For now the FDA still strictly prohibits the human consumption of Kratom.

Although many people argue against the banning of Kratom in the US, there are six main reasons why the DEA and the FDA are skeptical about declaring this plant safe for human consumption.

  • According to Forbes, In July 2016, a report by the CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) made a report that calls to its poison centers about Kratom exposure had increased by tenfold from just 26 in 2010 to 263 in 2015, alarming! Right? Over a third of these calls had reported that issues mostly occurred when this plant was combined with other commonly used substances such as narcotics, benzodiazepines and a range of other substances.
  • Kratom purchased in the United States according to a report by the DEA is adulterated with other synthetic compounds such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. Although most people are under the impression that they are buying pure Kratom, they are purchasing an adulterated form of it that could potentially have detrimental symptoms; this is according to Kavita Babu who is a respected toxicologist at UMass Memorial Medical Centre. Even renowned advocates for the formal legalization of this plant agree that this adulteration is a big limitation.
  • Inadequate research on the chemical structure of Kratom has also made it impossible to legalize it. The Food and Drug Agency and the Drug Enforcement Agency only legalize the use of plants for human use when they comprehensively understand the chemical structure, effects on the health of the human beings and the potential for physical, psychological addiction. Since very little research has been done, it makes logical sense that this plant has not been legalized. This is why Congress has asked the FDA and DEA to investigate before out rightly declaring it illegal.
  • The DEA is Citing Poison Control as a Reason to potentially Ban the Plant. According to DEA officials, the fact that research is still is still inadequate proves that it can be classified as a poison that should not be consumed by human beings. The FDA agrees with this decision to classify this substance as a poison because more needs to be ascertained about its effects on the general health of an individual.
  • The spokesman for the DEA, Russ Baer insists that the main reason they are committed to placing the Kratom plant on the Schedule 1 Drug List is that of the psychoactive ingredients that it possesses. According to Baer, this will help protect the general public against abuse and misuse.
  • Independent from the DEA, the Food and Drug Agency has also issued numerous public health warnings because of the legitimate concerns they have that Kratom could be representing a health risk. In fact, the FDA says that Kratom has been on their radar for a long time.

Legalization Arguments

The DEA’s and FDA’s decision to potentially ban the human consumption of Kratom has met aggressive resistance. The big question is why? Are there any logical and rational reasons why so many are against criminalizing the use of this plant? The resistance against decriminalizing Kratom is a massive movement. There is even an American Kratom Association which is a consumer group spearheading the efforts to ensure a real ban does not take effect. This association is led by its founder Susan Ash, and Executive Director is Paul Pelosi Junior who is the son of former renowned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In fact, a Whitehouse petition formed to lead reconsideration has attracted over 30,000 signatures.

The main argument made by these advocates is that is a naturally occurring plant hence contains no artificial ingredients that could cause detrimental side effects. Additionally, it has been used by many communities around the world since the early 1900s, and there is no proof that it has caused any long term permanent effects. These advocates argue that instead of banning the plant more research needs to be done on how to increase its safety and ascertain drug integrations with Kratom that could be harmful or poisonous. According to advocates for the legalization, it would be a great mistake to place this plant in the Schedule 1 drugs category. This is because unlike Cocaine, Ecstasy, and Heroin that have a high potential for harm and abuse, studies suggest that this plant may not necessarily be addictive or detrimental to mental and physical health. Dr. Chris McCurdy, a Kratom researcher at the University of Mississippi, says that he is not opposed to regulation, what he is specifically against is declaring Kratom a Schedule 1 drug.

The DEA’s and Federal Drug Agency’s decision to potentially ban the human use of Kratom in the United States has begun to draw critical attention from renowned United States lawmakers such as Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wis) who is committed to asking the Congress to make changes. According to most lawmakers who support the legalization of Kratom, they deem regulation necessary, what they are against is the harsh penalties that will be imposed on users if it is considered a Schedule 1 Drug.

Rests of the World

Most of the world Kratom is legal; however, some countries have made it completely illegal or have imposed harsh regulations making the sale and distribution extremely difficult. Countries that have made Kratom completely illegal are Malaysia, Burma, Australia, and Thailand. Possession of Kratom in these countries can lead to an imprisonment and in the case of Malaysia, Burma, and Thailand, even the death penalty can be given to persons found guilty. Justifiable or not, there is something to be said about killing a human being in the name of harm reduction; it is logically extreme and counter-intuitive.

Countries that have not outright banned the use of this plant but imposed extremely harsh rules that label it as a schedule 1 drug, making sale and distribution almost impossible. These include New Zealand, Germany, Romania, Denmark, and Finland. Some countries place stricter regulations than others, and due to this fact, it is crucial to extensively study the laws of the local regions so as to have a comprehensive understanding.