Traditional use of kratom

Traditional use of kratom

The traditional use of Kratom in Thailand dates back so far that it's impossible to even approximately determine when the local population first encountered this plant. The first mention of Kratom in Western literature was by a Mr. Low in 1836, who wrote that people in Malaysia used it as a substitute for opium when the latter was unavailable or too expensive. In 1895, E.M. Holmes classified Kratom as Mitragyna speciosa and also linked its use to the desire to find an alternative to opium. In 1907, L. Wray described the methods of Kratom consumption by the local population, such as: chewing fresh leaves, smoking dried leaves, brewing tea. In the hope of discovering the active substance of Kratom and researching its potential for medical application, L. Wray sent samples of Kratom leaves and its relative, Mitragyna parvifolia, to the University of Edinburgh, and it was from these leaves that E. Field isolated mitragynine (and mitraversine from M. parvifolia) in 1921.

Besides Kratom being used as an independent psychoactive substance, it is often, as already mentioned, used as an alternative to opium and also as a means to combat opiate addiction. In folk medicine, it is most often used as an analgesic and as a means to prevent diarrhea, as well as for some other gastrointestinal disorders. A small group of users take Kratom to prolong sexual intercourse, both in men and women. In 1930, H. Burkill mentioned that Kratom was also used as a topical treatment for wounds, fever, etc.

Thai and Malaysian scientists distinguish between different types of Kratom and report two main types, which differ in the color of the veins of their leaves - red or green (sometimes referred to as white). It is speculated that the green variety of leaves has a stronger effect compared to the red. In an experiment conducted with Thai Kratom tasters, they were first asked to consume leaves with red veins, then leaves with green veins, and then a mixture of both types. The study revealed a preference for a mixture of leaves, which the majority of tasters expressed. Kratom producers in Australia report that they sometimes encounter trees with mixed vein leaf colors. The only scientific study of the differences between the two types of leaves was conducted in November 1962. It found that both samples contained the same alkaloids, but unfortunately, the source available to us does not mention the concentrations they were present in different samples, and there are also no references to 7-Hydroxymitragynine, which modern science considers the main alkaloid of Kratom responsible for its primary psychoactive effects. In earlier studies, the alkaloid mitragynine pseudoindoxyl was also isolated, which is compared in activity to enkephalin.


Almost all local residents of Thailand chew fresh Kratom leaves. Sometimes the consumption occurs by adding fresh or dried ground leaves to food, less often it is brewed. Some rural residents use the leaves in cooking, apparently for an additional touch of national cuisine. For the treatment of stomach diseases, constipation, and diarrhea, the tough veins are removed from the fresh Kratom leaf and chewed with salt. The consumption of the leaf as food is usually accompanied by drinking some hot drink (coffee, or more often just warm water), which, according to Thais, greatly aids in the good absorption of active substances. The leaves can also be wilted, ground into tea, or a resin can be extracted from raw leaves. The extraction of the resin occurs by boiling the leaves in a small amount of water, then, having selected the already "squeezed" leaves, they evaporate the excess water and get the sticky substance - resin, which is then formed into small balls and rolled in substances like flour or starch for convenience and long-term storage. Obviously, this is a very convenient and therefore popular method of preparing raw leaves for long-term storage.

The most active users of Kratom are peasants, laborers, and farmers, who use the plant to overcome the difficulties of heavy daily work and scanty existence, and as a stimulant to help endure long days, working in the heat and high humidity in the fields. Reports of Kratom use by women are extremely rare, apparently because Kratom consumption is traditionally associated with workforce, vigor, whereas in Thai culture, a woman is assigned an inconspicuous inner role of a housewife. The age at which locals start using Kratom is generally higher than the average age of starting the use of other drugs (nicotine, marijuana, alcohol, etc.). Pharmacological studies have not found the possibility of developing dependence on Kratom, but locals report such cases. There is a hypothesis that dependence on Kratom among Thais is psychological, associated with daily repeated (from 3 to 10 times a day) consumption. There is also a tolerance effect to Kratom, which leads to a gradual increase in the dose, but in order for this effect to occur, the user needs to consume the plant every day for several years. Initially, a person will need only a few leaves to achieve the desired effect, but after about 5 years the number of leaves will increase to 10-30 pieces a day, or even more. Among the local residents, there is a saying that it is more profitable to marry a daughter to a man who consumes Kratom than to a man who smokes marijuana, because those who chew Kratom work hard and diligently, while marijuana is smoked out of laziness. Apparently, this belief of the Thais is based on the stimulating property of Kratom, respondents report that they started using Kratom because of the desire to work more efficiently, and the plant gives them a great desire to finish what they started.

Despite Kratom being most prevalent in Thailand (some texts even mention the distribution of Kratom limited to this country), it is also used in Malaysia, where the plant is known as ketum. Ketum is typically sold at roadside stalls in the form of a tea, named "air ketum" (based on its method of preparation). Usually, 1 ringgit (a local Malaysian weight measure) is sold per cup, while 2 ringgits are already prohibited by local Malaysian law. The tea is prepared by boiling the leaves in water for two hours, then the decoction is cooled by placing the boiling kettle in a bucket of cold water, causing a cold mist to rise from the kettle, which local shamans regard as a visual transformation of the plant, in which a worthy person can learn much of importance to them. Likely, the quenching process serves a more practical purpose - it prevents the hot liquid from melting the plastic cups. According to notes by Dr. Ahmet Mahmud, Deputy Director of the Department of Pharmaceutical Control at the Ministry of Health in Malaysia, even 13-year-old children can purchase a serving of Kratom.

There is a serious problem with codeine addiction in Malaysia, and thus the presence of other psychotropic substances for free sale effectively leads to a child drug addiction epidemic. Kratom seller Azvirr Hassan reports that he boils up to 30 kg of leaves per day, with portions mainly purchased by students and schoolchildren. Kratom is used in Malaysia in the same ways as in Thailand, including chewing, tea, and smoking. An article titled "Ketum Abuse", published in a Malaysian newspaper in 2005, mentioned several unusual methods of use: mixing the leaves with dried cow dung and tobacco and subsequently smoking the mixture through a cigarette or a special device made on the principle of an Eastern hookah (a similar method was used by ancient Arabs for smoking hashish through a hookah when they mixed hashish with dried camel dung and then smoked it through a hookah). The leaves are mixed with dried coconut, ginger, onion, nutmeg, and lime, all of which is rolled into a homogeneous mass and applied to a wild pepper leaf, then chewed like the areca palm leaf (another method of preparing a similar mixture not from Kratom, but from the resin and nuts of the areca palm, which grows in a similar range to Kratom, is currently widespread in India, and the final product is often called by the name of the palm - betel). It is highly likely that Kratom may be prepared in a similar way to betel, however, there are some doubts about smoking with feces.

Malaysian healers use Kratom as a circulation enhancer (slightly thinning the blood), stimulant, cough suppressant, and homeopathic remedy in the fight against diabetes. A study conducted by the Ministry of Health in Malaysia showed that many residents used Kratom to alleviate heroin and morphine addiction, and according to respondent reports, many have achieved success. The results of this study greatly influenced the Malaysian government's decision not to ban Kratom, but to limit its consumption to 1 ringgit (the dose of ketum allowed for sale per person).

Although Kratom grows throughout Southeast Asia, there is clear evidence of its use in other places as well. The Kingdom of Myanmar has recognized Kratom as illegal, indicating the plant's familiarity in Burmese culture. There is no data on any traditional use of Kratom in Indonesia, although it grows there almost more often than in Thailand.

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