Kratom was mentioned the first time in 1836 in the Western literature by Low (Burkhill, 1935). He described its effects in Malaysia and mentioned that kratom was used as a substitute for opium, when this was too expensive or not available. Initially kratom was taken in Thailand and Malaysia by male workers, to increase their productivity, and also because of its euphoric effect
in a mall dosage (also called coca-effect). In addition it made it easier to work in extreme sun and heat. Those who take it often, chew the leaves 3 to 10 times per day, while those who take it occasionally need only a few leaves to obtain the desired effect. The use by females however was not common. In a higher dosage kratom has an effect similar to opium and was already in the beginning of the 19th Century used as painkiller and substitute during opium withdrawal (Takayama, 2004). Holmes, as the first person, has in 1895 connected kratom with the plant Mitragyna speciosa.
Already early (1929) it was reported, that the long-term use of kratom causes no personality changes. Contrary to the use of opium, the consumption of kratom had no bad reputation at this time (Jansen and Prast, 1988).
Nowadays the use of kratom is quite common in the Western countries, which is supported by the large-scale offers on the internet. It is often used by people who have developed an opium addiction and try to reduce the withdrawal symptoms during the intentional breaks. Because of its abundant availability over the internet (there are over 50 online sellers) and its comparatively low price (30 gram cost between $ 10.00 and $ 40.00), kratom is an economical alternative to other opium replacing remedies (for example buprenorphine) and can be obtained without a prescription (Babu et al, 2008).
But kratom shows also increased use in its home countries despite its illegalization. For example in Malaysia the deputy director “of Enforcement at the Pharmaceuticals Services Division of Malaysia’s Health Ministry“, Dr. Ahmad Mahmud, had reported that the so-called “air ketum”, a tea made from kratom leaves, is bought from vendors in the streets, or at stalls, and consumed by even 13 year-old children before school and during the breaks, to remain awake and fit. However, one should also consider the context of this article, because this report has been given to the Singapore New Paper Newspaper, which wrote an anti-drug article. In the same article a kratom vendor from Malaysia was mentioned, who reported that he would brew daily a tea from about 20 kilogram (= 44 pounds) of kratom leaves and sell 250 – 300 cups from this amount.
About its use in other Southeast Asian countries, where kratom is native, as e.g. Burma, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, only little or nothing is known.
Kratom is also medically used. For example the traditional medicine of West Africa uses M. ipermis and M. stipulose against malaria. The alkaloid speciophylline isolated from M. ipermis was in studies also effective against leukemia. The same was observed with the oxindole alkaloid mitraphylline and speciophylline, isolated from Uncaria tomentosa (Rubiaceae), a wooden liana native to South America. Traditionally this liana was used against arthritis, intestinal problems, cancer, and epidermal diseases. Stuppner et al. (1993) have tested mitraphylline and speciophylline for their anti-leukemic effect at the cell lines HL-60 and U-937. He found that both alkaloids can prevent leukemia from spreading by inducing delimitation of the HL-60 cells to granulocytes and of the U-937 cells to marcophages. The U-937 cells are responsible before
the infestation of lymph nodes. The ripening blockage? („Reifungsblock“verlangt ein medizinisches Lexikon) which is characteristic for human leukemia, is overcome this way.
M.africans is used in Nigeria to treat mental illnesses, and the plant M.ciliata, native to Africa, is traditionally used against inflammations, high blood pressure, headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, gonorrhea and diseases of the lungs.
From Kratom alkaloids could as well be isolated, which also occur in “uña de gato” and are responsible for a positive effect on the immune system and blood pressure.
As mentioned before, kratom has always been used as a substitute for opium and is also used during withdrawal periods from opium. Today one finds increasingly single testimonies on the internet (mostly in forums) made by individuals who have taken kratom as an expedient against opium withdrawal symptoms. On the other hand the same symptoms are often reported, which occur during opium withdrawal, only that they appear less severe and are of shorter duration. Some individuals report to suffer from small depressions after quitting which makes it more difficult.
A present study, is told, used mitragynine as a methadone replacement. It was reported, that in New Zealand addicts were given mitragynine instead of methadone to treat the addiction. This story was the first time taken up in the “Ibogaine Story”, but that remained also the only reference. In the absence of other references this study apparently was never carried out and is a story only. According to the study in New Zealand it is reported, patients would have smoked each time kratom, when withdrawal symptoms began to show up. This treatment should have lasted 6 weeks, and reports exist of visualization apparitions during the night in form of vivid hypnagogic dreams. Dana Beal, a “Cures not Wars” activist from the USA has made the suggestion during the time of the Ibogain experiments at a meeting of the “Australian National Drugs and Poisons Schedule Committee”, to use mitragynine in the studies as a placebo for comparison purposes. Her suggestion though was rejected with the reason that much less is known about mitragynine than about ibogaine. In the notes of the meeting was remarked, that no entries could be found on a mitragynine or kratom study in New Zealand, and that neither mitragynine nor kratom is a registered product in New Zealand. This false assumption could have resulted from the report of Jansen and Prast (1988), because they wrote in their article, that kratom plays a special role as a replacement for methadone in withdrawal programs. Jansen and Prast have done research at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, so that Beal possibly may have misinterpreted this article.
Ibogaine and mitragynine are chemically similar, but their mode of effect is different. In addition their use to treat addictions is not the same. Ibogaine is meant to be used only once and the dependency is supposed to be cured after a single prescription, while kratom is used to treat the addiction to drugs bit by bit. The advantages of kratom are, that it is legally available in most countries and that the withdrawal is safer and simpler, but not according to scientific reports. These statements have still to be proven scientifically. But one has always to take into account the dependent making effect of kratom itself, if taken over a long period and in high dosages..