Kratom has only just recently (starting in late 2004 and spiking in April of 2005) stepped into the spotlight of Western scientific and medical research and studies about its potential pharmacological applications are still pending and yet some countries consider a ban of it without even researching its pros (and cons, we don't want be biased) in the first place.
Therefore the international legal status of Kratom is uncertain, despite its obvious advantages over (high-priced!) prescription drugs with their severe side-effects. The use of Kratom dates back millenia and it is plain to see that Kratom users, vendors and researchers have to spread accurate information to elucidate the true value of this natural means, before some uneducated blockheads who have no idea about Kratom criminalize it and deprive users from a natural substitute for opiates; from what we have read so far there are no significant negative effects, but long-term use studies are still pending as well. Unfortunately Kratom has no romanticized history like Cannabis, Opium or LSD, but is tied to the traditional use as a stimulant for peasants and workers who would use it to cope with their hard daily hard work and meager existence. But, let's go back in time and have a look at the history of Kratom ...
In Western literature, Kratom was (allegedly) first described in the early 19th century by Pieter Willem Korthals, a botanist who worked for the East India Company. Another source mentions Low, who described the plant in 1836. He wrote that the peasants and rural workers in Malaysia used it as a substitute when opium was unavailable or not affordable. Opium was widely distributed in the South-East Asian region and flushed tax money into the respective state treasury (a fact that would seal Kratom's fate in Thailand in the following century). E. M. Holmes also referred to Kratom's use as an opium substitute, when he identified it as Mitragyna speciosa in 1895. Two years later H. Ridley documented that Kratom was used to wean people off of opium (and its extracts).
L. Wray described the local methods of using Kratom, such as drinking it as a concoction, smoking and chewing in 1907. Hoping for medical use, he send samples of both Mitragyna speciosa and its relative Mitragyna parvifolia to the University of Edinburgh, where Hooper actually isolated the Mitragynine alkaloid from Mitragyna speciosa, but without giving it a name. This was rectified in 1921, when Fray repeated the procedure and gave the alkaloid its name - Mitragynine. He also isolated Mitraversine from the leaves of Mitragyna parvifolia. In 1930, I. H. Burkill studied the use of Kratom as a psychoactive and also described its traditional use as a medicine, mentioning it as a means for diarrhea and fever and its use as poultice and ointments (This has been confirmed in a Thai study from 1975, by Dr. Sangun Suwanlert). In 1940, three more alkaloids were identified and the research continued. On August 3, 1943, the government of Thailand passed the Kratom Act 2486, which made possession and sale of Kratom illegal and even included cutting down trees in order to enforce the law. Obviously a shot from the hip, because the plant is indigenous to Thailand and the effects of eradicating a certain species always affects the whole environment in its surrounding, harming the regional biodiversity. Don't get fooled by uneducated reports claiming it was banned due to health problems caused by Kratom; the true background is, that Kratom was used as a substitute by opium users, which in return reduced the tax income of the Thai government which profited from the distribution of opium. It was a monetary decision without any scientific background. How absurd, it is classed in the same enforcement group as cocaine and heroin!
On January 28, 1993, a Ministry of Health notice declared Mitragyna speciosa a controlled narcotic drug under Section 30 (b) of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law in Myanmar (formerly Burma). Unfortunately we could not find the reason for the ban, but we suspect another nonsensical move propelled by financial interests - prescription and over the counter drugs obviously make the government more money than the cheap and widely available (and commonly used!) natural medicine. On the other hand, we have no knowledge about the role of Kratom in Burmese culture, so who are we to judge their decision? In 1994, a study published by the country's Health Ministry indicated that many people had used it to get off of (prescription) opiates, morphine or heroin (although they continued to use Kratom after the withdrawal).
The Thai Narcotics Control Board indicated that in 2001 the second most widely abused illegal drug in the country was still Kratom, particularly in the rural and sub-urban areas of the working class society. It was estimated that 2 million people were still using Kratom and the same year, the police seized 1270 kilograms; clear evidence that the ban was contrary to the peoples stance and that the market had moved underground, which increased the price and lowered the quality of the available product and therewith opening the market for "fake Kratom". The fake is derived from Mitragyna javanica and contains the alkaloid Mitrajavine, a chemical yet to be pharmacologically tested.
In 2003, Malaysia illegalized Mitragynine and in August 2004 the ban was extended to the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa. In the same year, the authorities organized a four day operation, targeting the Kratom market in the states of Terengganu, Pahang and Kelantan. This resulted in 15 arrests and seizure of 245 kilograms of Mitragyna speciosa leaves and over 800 liters of prepared Kratom tea (locally known as "air ketum" - kratom water). Other operations are presumably ongoing. In 2005, a Malay newspaper described unusual methods of Kratom use with one of them being "A not so palatable-sounding process in which it (Kratom) is blended it with dried cow dung and tobacco and then smoked in a kind of blunt". In early March 2006, the Attorney General issued instructions on how to expand the ban to make the consumption of Kratom a criminal offense as well. The following year Kratom was re-classified and moved from the list of "poisonous substances" to the class of "dangerous drugs", making it even more illegal than it was before.
Another recent country to ban Kratom is Australia. During the meetings of the National Drugs and Poisons Schedule Committee in February 2003, Mitragyna speciosa was considered to be added to Schedule 9 of the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Drugs and Poisons and in October 2003 and February 2004 the Committee agreed. Public voices pointing out the safety, harmlessness and medical and therapeutic potential died away unheard. On January 1st, 2005, the law went into effect.
Almost each and every time Kratom appears in the media, it is (often) described as an unsafe and highly addictive substance of abuse without any medical value (despite its documented use as a means for various ailments throughout centuries) and is associated with other substances that it has absolutely nothing to do with. It is still relatively new to the Western world and this seems to contribute to some general misunderstandings and prejudice. Comparing the natural herb to opiates, as some journalists do or talking about its abuse and addiction potential, stigmatizes the users in a negative way and turned pain suffers who would not want to take the high-priced prescription opiates with their severe side-effects anymore into criminals.
A recent report from the Transnational Institute and Thai Narcotic control Board comes to the conclusion, that Kratom is a part of southern Thai culture and that the criminalization of Kratom is not only unnecessary, but counter-productive given centuries of non-problematic use. Kratom still ranks second in Thailand's illegally used drugs.
Kratom is illegal in 2013 in the following countries: Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Romania and the US states Indiana, Mississippi and Louisiana*.
Kratom is controlled in 2013 in the following countries: Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden and New Zealand.
Footnote: In 2012, over 20.000 people in the US have died from the use of FDA approved prescription pain drugs.
*Please keep us up to date - if your country/state bans Kratom, please contact us via our contact page - thank you!