24 Mar

The current state of Kratom research




A botanical cousin of the common coffee bush with hundreds of years of indigenous use as natural medicine that not only has immunostimulant properties but in addition to being a possible mood booster, antidepressant and effective analgesi has more antioxidant power than a cup of green tea. It’s the mitragyna speciosa, a bush indigenous to the jungles of Southeast Asia where it’s known as kratom, ketum, ithang or some other name depending on the region. Kratom has hundreds (if not thousands) of  years of safe and effective human use in the region where it’s found and over a century of research, including an isolate of the plant being synthesized as early as 1921.
Kratom has been researched globally and to a great degree. A US patent was granted June of 2013 for a number of “Hybrid opioid compounds and compositions and their  pharmaceutical compositions, as well as to methods of treating pain in humans using the hybrid compounds and mixed opioid salts.” Both mitragynine and the derivative  mitragynine-pseudoindoxyl are referenced in the patent multiple times. This and multiple works of scholarship in regards to the use of kratom and it’s chemical makeup and physiological effects go as far back as to 1836.

Recent interest in kratom as a means of chronic pain management, alternative energy source and general health tonic and panacea led to Forbes picking up the story. David DiSalvo of Forbes’ continued the story as “The Kratom Experiment Begins” in February of 2013. The “experiment” (which was covered at his “Daily Brain” section at his private blog) was evidently a success: “Initially it provides a burst of energy very similar to a strong cup of coffee.  Unlike coffee, however, the energy I derived from Kratom was longer-lasting and level.  My experience with coffee is that the initial burst is strong but it tapers and descends rapidly, leading to the well-known caffeine crash. The energy from Kratom, on the other hand, would often last for three or four hours, but was subtle enough that at no point did I feel like I was jumping out of my skin. I also did not experience an energy crash with any of the Kratom products I sampled.”

Lloyd Billingsley,  policy fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Californiais also a believer. He writes in the Washington Times: “Scientific research should continue. Federal and state officials need to be open-minded, see where the scientific research leads, and consider all the evidence. […] Banning kratom or banning its ingredients, as Indiana has done, is the wrong message at the wrong time.”

As we’ve shown, there is quite a bit of human history and much of that has been legitimate research that has been carried out since the resurgence of interest in Mitragyna speciosa korthals by Dr. E.J. Shellard in the 70’s and on.


A 2011 study in the journal “Phytomedicine” reports that mitragynine  “significantly reduced the released of corticosterone in mice […]. Overall, the present study clearly demonstrated that mitragynine exerts an antidepressant effect in animal behavioral model of depression” and did so ” without any significant effect on locomotor activity.” In other words, the rats were not incapacitated physically or cognitively. Considering the fact that kratom contains constituents that can relieve anxiety, block adrenergic receptors, the same ones responsible for the surge of neurotoxic corticosterones released during the “fight or flight” syndrome, the compounding health benefit to someone who experiences deleterious physiological as well as mental symptoms of depression and anxiety.


According to the article “ Behavioral and neurochemical characterization of kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) extract” by Stolt, Schroeder, et al.  kratom “contains several alkaloids and is used in traditional medicine to alleviate musculoskeletal pain, hypertension, coughing, diarrhea, and as an opiate substitute for addicts.”
Researchers Boyer, McCurdy and Adkins published their patent on kratom as an alternative opioid withdrawal means. Despite being shown to be helpful in treating mild, moderate or severe pain and mitigating opiate dependance and withdrawal symptoms, it’s own “abstinence syndrome” is considered no worse than that of caffeine withdrawal with similar symptoms (mild headache, lethargy, etc.). For the same reason it’s being looked into for it’s mood lifting properties (owing to it’s action on the dopaminergic and serotonergic system) the scientists feel that “may also be useful for the treatment of other addictive drugs besides opiate derivatives.”

Unlike traditional opiate and opioid medications addiction potential and also danger of overdose due to respiratory depression are a factor, along with lowered price of treatment that could contribute to kratom being used as an effective alternative to addictive and unhealthy “doping” through either prescription pain management or replacement management therapy.


Studies on zebrafish further confirm the ability of kratom to lower anxiety, blood pressure, relieve disturbances in the corticosterone pathways. These are the same pathways responsible for the, at times painful, “fight or flight response” that is one of the central issues in the experience of PTSD.

In addition alkaloids found in kratom have alkaloids with antihypertensive, calcium channel blocking, anti-adrenergic, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety activity that could contribute to relief from sufferers. The more analgesic, sedating and pain-killing red-veined leaf material would most likely be most beneficial for PTSD sufferers.
With the Veteran’s administration interested in experimenting with MDMA for PTSD some folks are arguing that the much safer and more widely studied plant matter of the mitragyna speciosa (kratom) should be tested.

In the Scientific American article dealing with kratom in 2013, previously mentioned, kratom researcher Boyer explains that: “Kratom also has serotonergic activity, too—it binds with serotonin receptors. So if you want to treat depression, if you want to treat opioid pain, if you want to treat sleepiness, this [compound] really puts it all together.”

Anti-cancer and anti-tumor

In 2014 in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention scientists Goh, Koh, Mordi, et al. concluded that “the medicinal and nutitional values of mitragynine obtained from ketum leaves that growth in tropical forest of Southeast Asia and its analogues [is] not limited to analgesic properties but could be promising antioxidant and anticancer or chemopreventive compounds.” In the article “Evaluation of Antioxidant and Antibacterial Activities Activities of Aqueous, Methanolic and Alkaloid Extracts from Mitragyna Speciosa” it was shown that mitragynine methanolic extracts slowed the growth of papillomas in lab rats and both studies led researchers to conclude that further research on the anti-cancer, topical and anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties of kratom should be more fully understood through continuing research.


As recently as December of 2015 a patent application by Paul and Mei Bigliardi was published referencing kratom’s possible efficacy in treating fibromyalgia. Even more recently, in the January 2016 edition of the scientific journal Peptides another link between fibromyalgia and mitragyna and “endogenous opioids” was explored.
From the Cambridge University laboratory in 1921 to Japan in the 60’s, Pharmaceutical company Smith, Kline and French in the 70’s until it was rediscovered by Malaysian and Thai researchers in the 80’s and 90’s. A major turning point was when Karl Jansen and Colin J. Prast published a study from the University of Auckland to the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. The researchers concluded that the primary alkaloids in mitragyna were suitable antitussive, analgesic and hypothermic agents as well as being able to be a safe substitute for methadone or opiate or opioid pain killers without the addiction or respiratory depression issues.

A chorus of cries within just the last handful of years can be heard in the research community in regards to the need for further exploration into the multiple therapeutic benefits of kratom. From analgesia and anxiety relief to it’s anti-cancer and anti-tumor propensities, a more potent antioxidant than green tea, possible natural antidepressant and immunostimulant among others. As with many other methods and means of traditional medicine, a resurgence in interest in the study of this plant seems to be taking place, but hopefully this is just the beginning.