Kratom is a deciduous tree in the coffee family that is indigenous to Southeast Asia. The leaves of the tree have long been used for both medicinal and recreational purposes. Despite widespread consumption throughout Southeast Asia, the cultivation and possession of the tree’s leaves are now banned in Thailand, but remain available in the United States.
Kratom contains alkaloids believed to have certain effects on the brain. The alkaloids in kratom have been shown to work as stimulants on the brain, but the process is still unknown. Today, kratom is sold in many forms, including leaves, powder and resin, the later two of which are typically more concentrated. While kratom is widely known to have a positive effect on anxiety and mood, no studies have been conducted on its long-term use.
In Southeast Asia, the leaves were harvested and boiled to make a tea, while fresh leaves were used for chewing or smoking. Chewing kratom leaves was typically viewed as an alternative to coffee. In Southern Thailand, where kratom leaves have been consumed for thousands of years, the average kratom user chews between ten and sixty leaves per day. Approximately 70% of the Southern Thailand population consumes kratom leaves.
Kratom, also known as mitragynine, has been used for centuries in Thailand as a stimulant. The leaves were traditionally used by peasants and laborers to overcome the burden of physical labor and increase productivity. The leaves were also used medicinally to treat diarrhea. In East Asia, kratom was often used as a substitute for opium or to treat opium addiction, as miragynine could gradually wean addicts off narcotics. More recently, kratom has been used in New Zealand during methadone addiction detox.
Kratom has been found to be an effective means of treating opium addiction, as it provides relief from withdrawal symptoms. While kratom is mildly addictive, it has far weaker withdrawal symptoms and the alkaloids appear to be responsible for reducing opium cravings. Several countries have been studying the use of kratom in the treatment of opium addiction. A few countries have completely banned kratom, although its sale is not regulated in the United States, where just a few states have made the leaves and powdered form of the tree illegal.