A Brief History of Kratom: Who Discovered It and When?

There are 3 to 5 million kratom users in the United States alone.

You may have heard about this controversial plant. It has helped millions of people keep their daily pain in check without having to resort to prescription drugs.

But where exactly did the plant come from? Who discovered its benefits? When did people begin packaging and selling it?

While using kratom to help with pain is relatively new in North America, it has a long and abundant history in other parts of the world.

In this blog post, we’ll go over a brief history of kratom. We’ll look at kratom history from its discovery to the plant alternative hailed by millions around the world.

What is Kratom?

In order to dive into kratom’s history, we have to take a look at what it is exactly.

Kratom is a plant, also known as Mitragyna speciosa. The leaves are dried out and crushed into pills or powders for use of pain relief.

The plant is indigenous to Southeast Asia. It is most commonly found in Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The trees flourish in tropical landscapes, hence their discovery there.

Kratom History: The “Discovery”

Kratom has been around for an indeterminate amount of time. This is because it has been used and chewed by populations in South East Asia for centuries. There hasn’t been a lot of recorded history on kratom prior to the Dutch making their way to Malaysia.

The first known mention of kratom in Western literature was by Pieter Willem Korthals. He worked for the East India Company and observed individuals chewing the herb.

Later on that century, kratom was mentioned in literature as a cheaper alternative for opium. Opium was popular in Malaysia and Thailand in the 19th century and even taxed to earn more money for the state. As this was out of reach for daily use for some of the poorer workers in Southeast Asia, kratom became a popular substitute.

In order to help relieve the pain of monotonous tasks of hard labor, or to relieve pain in general, many people were observed to chew it all day. They also often brewed it into teas to help relax.

It has since been banned in Malaysia and Thailand, and most kratom manufacturers now get their plants from Indonesia.

Local Uses

Before westerners arrived in Southeast Asia, there had been a long history of kratom use by native individuals. As mentioned previously, kratom had been used as a substitute for opium and helped with the chronic pain of hard labor. However, people also used kratom for other reasons.

Kratom was also used as a way to help combat fatigue and increase appetite and sexual desire. It was thought that chewing on them would best create this effect.

The leaves or the extracts from the leaves were also placed on wounds. This would help heal them, as well as work as a topical anesthetic.

Coughs and upset stomachs were also treated with kratom. Individuals found that the leave extracts could help with diarrhea and stomach bugs.

Thailand also used the leaf as part of a ritual in ancestor worship. They would often combine the kratom leaves with something sweet. It would be given out as a snack before ritual ancestor worship.

Identification and Use for Drug Addiction Treatment

As mentioned previously, kratom was unknown to the Western world until the early 19th century.

Pieter Korthals, a Dutch botanist working for the East India Company, was the first to classify the plant. However, it would undergo a few name changes before it finally received its official name, Mitragyna speciosa, in 1859.

In 1836, it was first discovered that individuals used kratom as an opium substitute. With that knowledge, individuals attempted to use it to treat drug addiction. In some cases, it was used to help individuals addicted to opium detox from the substance.

Sending It Mainstream

In 1907, British botanist L. Wray decided he wanted to harness the power of kratom and see if it could be used as an herbal alternative in the United Kingdom and the Western world. He sent samples to a colleague at the University of Edinburgh, who was able to isolate the strains that they could use medicinally.

By 1921, some of the psychoactive strains of the plant were finally identified. In 1930, I. H. Burkill stated that the plant could be used to help relieve symptoms of diarrhea and other stomach issues.

Individuals in Southeast Asia were already well aware of this fact. However, it took the westerners quite a while to catch up.

In 1943, the Thai government banned kratom. This is most likely because the government profited off of the sales of opium, and kratom competed with it. As a result, they placed it in the same category as both heroin and cocaine.

Modern Use

Today kratom is banned in many countries or a controlled substance. It is currently illegal in Thailand and Malaysia but does remain legal in Indonesia.

Within the United States, there has been widespread controversy surrounding the plant. Today, kratom is legal in many states. Some, however, still lists it as a Schedule I substance. Before you purchase kratom, you should be aware of your country and state’s laws regarding possession.

While some states classify it as legal for all over the age of 18, others do not.

Why is There So Little Known About the History of Kratom?

Like many things, kratom history is fraught with political issues and struggles. One of the reasons kratom has become illegal is not necessarily because of its danger to the population, but because of the fact that it limits the sale of other drugs. Many people prefer kratom over other pills or substances that each country can legally tax or receive profit from. This creates a complicated situation.

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