The Therapeutic Potential of Kratom
O. Hayden Griffin, III, Ph.D.
Kratom is one of many traditional drugs that has recently gained attention in the West. Kratom comes from the Korth tree (Mitragynine speciosa), a plant native to Africa and Southeast Asia but most commonly found in Thailand and Malaysia. While the first scientific reference to the plant occurred in 1836, kratom has been used by people indigenous to Southeast Asia for at least hundreds of years. Kratom leaves contain over twenty alkaloids. Two of these alkaloids, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine (7-OH), contain psychoactive properties. However, one of the things that makes kratom so interesting is that mitragynine has stimulant properties while 7-OH has narcotic properties. Such divergent effects within a plant are rare. Within Southeast Asia, traditional kratom use includes the treatment of malaria, cough, hypertension, diarrhea, depression, analgesia, fever, and even as an opiate substance or to help patients through opiate withdrawal. The diversity of medical utility of kratom has not only led to medical research of the plant in the United States, but many Americans have begun to use it as well for a variety of medicinal and/or recreational purposes. To date, the complete medical utility of kratom has yet to be realized. So far, few individual states have regulated kratom, but the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has expressed some intent to do so.
O. Hayden Griffin, III, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Justice Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He has a PhD from the University of Florida and a JD from the University of Richmond. His research interests are drug policy, corrections, and law & society. Of particular interest to him is the history of the formulation of drug policy as well as the scheduling process. His research has been published in International Journal of Drug Policy, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Journal of Drug Issues, and Journal of Drug Education.