Kratom: What Is It?
Kratom refers to the plant Mitragyna speciosa Korth, a tree indigenous to Thailand; it is mostly grown in the central and southern regions of the country, and only rarely in the north. The Mitragyna genus, part of the family Rubiaceae, is found in tropical and sub-tropical regions of Asia and Africa. Asian Mitragynas are often found in rainforests, while the African species (which are sometimes still classed in a separate genus, Hallea) are often found in swamps. Most species are arborescent, some reaching heights of almost 100 feet. The genus was given its name by Korthals because the stigmas in the first species he examined resembled the shape of a bishop's mitre. This genus is characterized by a globular flowering head, bearing up to 120 florets each. During the flower bud stage, the developing florets are surrounded and completely covered by numerous overlapping bracteoles. Mitragyna species are used medicinally as well as for their fine timber through the areas they grow.
Mitragyna speciosa itself reaches heights of 50 feet with a spread of over 15 feet. The stem is erect and branching. Flowers are yellow. Leaves are evergreen, and are a dark glossy green in color, ovate-acuminate in shape, and opposite in growth pattern. Kratom is evergreen rather than deciduous, and leaves are constantly being shed and being replaced, but there is some quasi-seasonal leaf shedding due to environmental conditions. During the dry season of the year leaf fall is more abundant, and new growth is more plentiful during the rainy season. When grown outside their natural tropical habitat, leaf fall occurs with colder temperatures, around 4 degrees Celsius.
Kratom prefers wet, hummus soils in a protected position. Being a heavy feeder, it requires very rich, fertile soil. It is drought sensitive, and if grown out of its native habitat, sensitive to frost. Propagation is by very fresh seed or cuttings. There is a low strike rate, due to an endogenous fungus which attacks xylem tissue.
Over 25 alkaloids have been isolated from Kratom. The most abundant alkaloids consist of three indoles and two oxindoles. The three indoles are mitragynine, paynanthine, and speciogynine - the first two of which appear to be unique to this species. The two oxindoles are mitraphylline and speciofoline. Other alkaloids present include other indoles, and oxindoles such as ajmalicine, corynanthedine, mitraversine, rhychophylline, and stipulatine.
Mitragynine is the dominant alkaloid in the plant. It was first isolated in 1907 by D. Hooper, a process repeated in 1921 by E. Field who gave the alkaloid its name. Its structure was first fully determined in 1964 by D. Zacharias, R. Rosenstein and E. Jeffrey. It is structurally related to both the yohimbe alkaloids and voacangine. It is more distantly related to other tryptamine-based psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin or LSD. Chemically, mitragynine is 9-methoxy-corynantheidine. It has the molecular formula C23H30N2O4 and a molecular weight of 398.5. Physically the freebase is a white, amorphous powder with a melting point of 102-106 degrees and a boiling point of 230-240 degrees. It is soluble in alcohol, chloroform and acetic acid. The hydrochloride salt has a melting point of 243 degrees.
The alkaloid content of the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa is about 0.5%, about half of which is mitragynine. An average leaf weighs about 1.7 grams fresh or 0.43 grams dried. Twenty leaves contain approximately 17mg of mitragynine. All leaves appear to contain mitragynine, speciogynine, paynanthine, and small quantities of speciociliatine. Oxindole alkaloids usually occur only in small or trace amounts.
Alkaloid content varies from place to place and at different times. Within each location, there is a quantitative variation in alkaloid content from month to month. While indole content seems to be fairly stable, oxindole content shows tremendous variation.
Kratom is traditionally only used in Thailand, although some use in Malaysia has been reported. Besides Kratom (or Krathom), it also goes by the names ithang, kakuam, and in southern regions, Thom. Use dates far enough back that its beginning can't be determined. In addition to being used as a narcotic drug in its own right, it is often used as a substitute for opium when opium is unavailable, or to moderate opium addiction. In folk medicine, it is often used to tread diarrhea. A small minority of users use Kratom to prolong sexual intercourse.