Mitragyna speciosa (Kratom)

Scientific ClassificationKingdom: PlantaeClass: MagnoliopsidaOrder: GentianalesFamily: RubiaceaeGenus: MitragynaSpecies: M. speciosa

Negative Media Attention Surrounding Kratom
When Kratom appears in the media, the information surrounding the plant is often misleading. The geographic location of the plant is relatively remote and because of this, most people specifically in the western world, know very little about the plant. People are scared of using the plant because they associate many of its properties with other drugs. They do not take into consideration that there needs to be a complete and comprehensive understanding of the plant from a scientific view point. For example many people are unaware of various chemical compounds that induce certain mind altering reactions once ingested. Even in Thailand where the plants originate they are banned. People rarely follow the legislation set in place to inhibit the use of the plant. It is very possible that the plant will become an important component to the health sciences because once more information is attained we may be able to incorporate the plant more in healthcare and medicine. (Huss)

Binomial name: Mitragyna speciosa
(Korth.) Havil

Miragyna specios, identified by most people as kratom, is a fast growing tropical tree that can lose its leaves, petals and flowers seasonally or be evergreen, depending on its environment. The tree is native to Southeast Asia, specifically the Indochina and Malesia floristic regions. Kratom trees usually grow to a height of 12-30 feet tall and can stretch up to 15 feet wide. The stems of the plant are erect and branching with leaves that can grow to over 7 inches in length and 4 inches in width. The leaves are round and heart-shaped at the base. The tree also produces yellow, round flowers that grow in clusters at the end of the branches. Good light, high heat, and humidity are essential to the health of the plant. The ideal temperature for growth ranges from 75-90 degrees, however, there have been cases where the plant survived in temperatures as low as 68 degrees. ( wikipedia 1)

Kratom belongs to the Rubiaceae family, often referred to as the coffee family, the madder family, or bredstraw family. This family is one of the largest yet least known woody plant families in the wet tropics. In terms of biodiversity, it is hard to imagine a species of plants with more variation. According to Princeton University, “Currently, there are about 611 genera and more than 13,000 species in the Rubiaceae family. It is the fifth largest family of flowering plants by number of genera, and the fourth or fifth largest by number of species. Species are concentrated in warmer and tropical climates around the world.” (Siebers 1)

The leaf of the plant has been traditionally used for medicinal purposes, however, the plant is marred by controversy due to its effect on the body once it is ingested. When being used traditionally, the leaves of the plant are chewed or swallowed. In recent years, however, people have started to boil the leaves of the plant in order to drink its “tea.” Religious figureheads and local law enforcement have a lot of interest in the use of the plant because there are so many different opinions in regards to its use. (Wikipedia 1)

There are many issues related to Kratom because of the effects the plant has on the body once it is ingested. According to Pascal Tanguay, “Kratom use has been reported to act on the central nervous system, both as a stimulant and a depressant, depending on the level of dosage” (Tanguay 1). Some people are in support of the banned use of Kratom, but it has become infused in the culture of Thailand and many people believe that it is unnecessary to set such restrictions on the plant. Kratom is embedded in traditional customs and ceremonies and the controversy surrounding the plant deals with the issue of human rights. Local officials have to find a balance between making sure people are safe and not endangering themselves but they also need to make sure that they are not causing problems with locals who use the plant wisely.

Map Key:
North Asia
Central Asia
Southwest Asia
South Asia
East Asia
Southeast Asia (mustard yellow)

Plant Family


The Rubiaceae family is one if the largest flowering plant families in the world, containing approximately 7,000 different species. Most of the plants associated with the Rubiaceae family are indigenous to tropical regions of the world and are mainly woody trees and shrubs. (Rubiaceae 1)
Many of the plants have economic uses, none being more lucrative than coffee. The flowers produced by these plants are very bright and colorful, people have become so fixated on the appearance of the flowers produced by these plants that they use them as decorations. The plants are also used for medicinal purposes worldwide.(Kew 1)

Distinct characteristics of Rubiaceae family include:
  • The plants are woody
  • Leaves are simple, the leaves are usually opposite one another or in whorls
  • Flowers tend to have four or five separate sepals
  • Contains on average four to five stamens
  • In temperate species its flowers are barely noticeable, due to usually being pale in appearance
  • In tropical species flowers are brightly colored and large
  • Fruits may be capsule, berry, drupe, or schizocarp (The seed site 1)

Human Use

In Thailand and other areas of Asia, Kratom has been infused into the culture. Historically most people ingest the leaves of the plants by chewing. Most people living in this region of the world do not consider the plant a drug despite its hallucinogenic abilities upon entering the body. For thousands of years usage of the plant whether, medicinal, recreational, or for religious purposes, has been seen as a cultural norm. Any substance can become addicting depending on the individual so in some cases individuals who habitually use Kratom tend to do so for life. As far as the plant itself, its chemical properties do not create dependency on the plant. There are possible side effects associated with using Kratom such as nausea, constipation, sleep deprevation, and there have been some cases of erectile dysfunction in males. Excessive use of the plant can also cause rapid weight loss. The plant can be used but can become dangerous depending on the amount ingested. Kratom has not gained popularity in modern medicine but has been used as an substitute for painkillers by natives. The plants is mostly a recreational drug.


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