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Who Discovered Kratom?

Jemi Fischbach

Kratom comes from the mitragyna speciosa tree. This tropical evergreen tree grows in Southeast Asian jungles as the climate there is perfect. The heat, humidity, and acidic soil can infuse the plant with unique minerals that allow it to produce active compounds. These two compounds are the source of Kratom’s potentially therapeutic effects. They are known as mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Since Kratom’s discovery by Westerners, these two compounds have undergone various studies and continue to be researched so that eventually, Kratom can be recognized as a therapeutic substance in the U.S. and other countries around the world.

Like many medicinal herbs and plants, the first people to discover Kratom were indigenous communities in Southeast Asia. For hundreds of years, these communities have sought out the plant to alleviate bodily pains, improve focus, and reduce anxiety. There are even some accounts of them using the plant for its antiseptic properties to heal wounds. While these indigenous communities used the plants for many years under the radar, it was not until the 17th and 18th centuries when Westerners began to learn about the substance.

A European Introduction

While indigenous communities had been using Kratom for years, it was at a point in history when Europe was expanding its empire, colonizing areas worldwide, when a man named Pieter Willem Korthals learned of Kratom. He was a Dutch botanist recognized as one of the first people outside of Southeast Asia to discover Kratom.

Korthals developed the name for the plant, mitragyna speciosa. Many believe his name for the plant alluded to the fact the leaves looked similar to a bishop’s miter. Even though he did not record exactly why he named it as he did, he did record various Kratom facts based on his research. Many of his discoveries and observations were confirmed and strengthened by an English surgeon named George Darby Haviland.

American Discovery

The Americans did not learn about Kratom until long after Korthals and Haviland had started their work, until the Vietnam War. The public awareness came after soldiers had returned home from duty. While they were in Vietnam, posted in the jungle, they learned of the Kratom tree from the indigenous population. They had told them about its ability to improve focus and alertness, which helped them during stake-out missions. As it was a high-intensity environment where many were prone to emotional distress, this plant was seen as a useful tool for staying sane and alert. Many of the soldiers would keep a handful in their pockets and chew on it when needed.

Many of these soldiers returned to America with a hefty supply of Kratom. Those who did not bring any back set up supply chains, having Kratom shipped overseas. Many of these channels went unnoticed by government officials until more people started to look for natural health food products. As prescription drug prices and healthcare costs were going up at this time, many people wanted alternatives. During this period, the once unnoticed Kratom products in the U.S. became heavily scrutinized.

The FDA’s Stance

As time passed, the Food and Drug Administration took a hard stance against Kratom. They put efforts in motion that would have had Kratom banned as a Schedule I controlled substance. However, these efforts were put on hold. They did successfully put restrictions in place that have limited the spread of accurate Kratom information. Suppliers cannot share facts or evidence they have found about Kratom with the general public, so many vendors’ tongues are tied as they try to give customers the right information.

In an attempt to combat some of the FDA’s efforts, the American Kratom Association was formed. This organization comprises many Kratom advocates who want to see Kratom properly regulated like any other natural health product. The FDA’s current restrictions are limiting research from taking place, and thus, the proper steps can’t be taken to show Kratom is a safe and effective product.

The Path Forward

If Kratom is to become a regulated product like other natural health products, more research needs to be done. As Kratom is available for research purposes in the U.S., customers of reputable dealers need to make sure they are documenting their experience and sharing it with organizations like the AKA.

The more information that circulates showing Kratom is a therapeutic product, the more likely it is that regulatory bodies worldwide will change their views and move towards regulating the product.

While the discovery of Kratom happened long ago, it is still not fully discovered as an acceptable medicinal substance. The Kratom industry is currently in a critical phase, with most support coming from reputable dealers. By supporting these dealers, customers can help to bolster the reputation of Kratom and hopefully see it become a more widely accessible substance.

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