Kratom Facts – Why it Should be Your Favorite Plant


The coffee family, known by the scientific name of Rubiaceae, features a very important herb that is used for both medical and non-medical purposes throughout the world. This herb, known worldwide by the name of Mitragyna speciosa or Kratom (in lay man’s language), is an evergreen angiospermic plant that is well cultivated in the regions of South East Asia. From time to time this medicinal herb has been responsible to severely affect the trade of opium in the native countries because people have substituted opoids with Kratom and this has made Kratom illegal in many countries of the world.


Pieter Korthals was a Dutch botanist who is famous for discovering and naming Kratom in the nineteenth century. The stigmas of the flowers of Kratom resembled in appearance to a bishop’s mitre and therefore its genus was named Mitragyna. A brief review of the taxonomical classification of Kratom is as follows.

Kingdom:        Plantae

Division:          Angiosperms

Order:               Gentianales

Family:             Rubiaceae

Genus:             Mitragyna

Species:            Mitragyna speciosa


Mitragyna speciosa features great variation in the pattern of growth. Some plant may grow only 12 to 30 feet tall while others can attain a size of 70 feet or even more. It has huge, dark green leaves with a flat, broad surface while the flowers are tiny and yellow in color.  The stem is always erect and shows a branching pattern.


mitragynineKratom plant exerts its therapeutic effects due to several alkaloids present in it. More than twenty five alkaloids have been isolated so far and it has been suggested that mitragynine is the most potent one that is responsible for majority of the effects. Other alkaloids present in Kratom are paynanthine, speciogynine, mitraphylline and speciofoline. The amount of mitragynine in a leaf is highly dependent on the location of tree. Kratom cultivated in Thailand and other South East Asian regions have far more of this compound as compared to the ones grown in greenhouse and other Western countries.

The alkaloid ‘rhynchophylline’ found in many strains of Kratom is a calcium channel blocker and acts on the NMDA receptors to prevent the addiction to this compound. This is contrary to opoids such as morphine which can make the user dependent and thus resulting in severe withdrawal symptoms.


The therapeutic effects of Kratom have been attributed to the presence of mitragynine, an alkaloid found in Kratom leaves that exert its actions on the mu opoid receptors and act like morphine to relieve chronic pain and boost the mood. The onset of action is within five to fifteen minutes and duration of action is up to five hours. The plasma level of mitragynine is a very sensitive and specific marker for detecting drug overdose. In individuals who are using the drug recreationally, the plasma level of mitragynine would never exceed above 50 μg/L. Plasma levels greater than 100 μg/L indicates intoxication whereas that above 300 μg/L can lead to severe hypovolemia and psychosis. Such acute overdose can be lethal to the user.


The most well established use of Kratom is as a substitute for opium. Other uses may be attributed to its analgesic and relaxing potential. Premature ejaculation during sexual intercourse and opoid associated diarrhea can also be treated by Kratom strains.

Apart from its medical uses, this herb is used as a recreational drug in many parts of South East Asia and the native population consumes on an average 60 grams of Kratom leaves on a daily basis for their lifetime. Such chronic use may be associated with addiction and other central nervous system disorders such as psychosis and hallucinations.


The different therapeutic effects of Kratom are exerted at different doses and patient should be well acknowledged by the physician about the dosage regimen prior to treatment with Kratom. Kratom is believed to act as a stimulant at low doses whereas at higher doses it can provide pain relief and sedation. The dosing regimen is also dependent on the form of Kratom used as fresh leaves are much more potent as compared to the capsular forms.


kratom factsAs Kratom is relatively safer than morphine and other opoids, many people have exploited the use of this drug as a euphoric and anti-depressant. Chronic users can have physical dependence on the drug and withdrawing at such a stage can lead to fatal complications such as nausea, hypertension, loss of appetite, weight loss, muscle and joint pain, irritability and insomnia. In cases of severe overdose, opoid agonist and adrenergic antagonist have been found useful for the reversal of symptoms associated with withdrawal of the drug. Because of its addictive potential, this drug has been claimed illegal to use in many countries of the world especially the native South East Asian regions. Use of Kratom in moderate amounts is not associated with any addictive potential and the beneficial effects outweigh the side effects.


Statistics have shown that use of Kratom has exceptionally increased in United States and therefore many countries have banned the use of this drug for two reasons. First, the increasing use of Kratom has decreased the trade value of opium and secondly, increased reports of drug abuse have lead to negative reviews which have reduced sales. Although none of the Kratom products are available at pharmacies and cannot be obtained as an over-the-counter drug but the increasing number of online vendors has made its availability and purchase very convenient. Also, many head shops and smoke shops are also found to sell Kratom powder and capsules.


Kratom has become famous as both a medicinal and recreational drug over the past few decades because of its mood altering effects. Opoid receptors are the major site of action of Kratom. This property has made Kratom a suitable alternative to morphine. Lack of quality control and standardization in the cultivation and sale of Kratom products has lead to drug abuse and addiction among chronic users.  Physicians prescribing Kratom should be very well aware of its narrow therapeutic index and the safety margin.