Krathom (sic), Kratom, Mitragyna speciosa a Thai herb with a stimulant property may be developed to help drug addicts. The herb has long been used in rural areas and farmers believe that chewing a couple of fresh leaves helps boost their stamina.
Pennapa Sapcharoen, director of the National Institute of Thai Traditional Medicine, said krathom (Mitragyna speciosa), could be prescribed to addicts and patients suffering depression, but stressed further research was needed.
The herb, of the Rubiaceae family, was not a substitute to treat addicts nor should it be used on a stand-alone basis. "The use of traditional medicine needs a holistic approach," she said. "We have to pay attention not only to the medicine itself but also to the application process.
"We should base our study on traditional formulas-to see how the plant is used and with what. This is important as some of the plants are used together because one can suppress the side-effects of another."Dr Pennapa said drug laws were an obstacle to research. The Food and Drug Administration lists krathom as a stimulant affecting the central nervous system, and it is listed by law as a narcotic in the same class as opium.
"To prescribe this plant as medicine is a big challenge," said Dr Pennapa. "The law currently limits the number of plants anyone can possess." Viroj Sumyai, director of the administration's narcotics control division, denied the law banned the use of krathom in research.
"Some research on this plant has already been done," he said. "Chulalongkorn researchers have isolated mitragynine, a chemical stimulant from the plant. Those wishing to study it can pick up from there," he said.
Dr Pennapa was also critical of the Department of Mental Health, accusing it of lack of support influenced by a bias against traditional medicines.
Dr Amporn Benjaponpitak of the department dismissed the criticism, saying mitragynine had yet to be used in modern medicine, while many effective anti-depressants were available.
"Herbal medicines need more scientific research," he said.
Samlee Chaidee, of Chulalongkorn University's pharmacy department, said the herb was a part of country life before the state stepped in.
Studies showed that villagers using it suffered no addiction problems, but more research was needed, she said.
"In some parts of the country, it was said that parents chose to give their daughters to men who used krathom and not marijuana," she said.
"It was believed hard-working men used krathom while marijuana users were lazy," she added.
Published: November 27, 1999