The pharmacology and toxicology of kratom: from traditional herb to drug of abuse


Mitragyna speciosa (Rubiaceae), commonly known as kratom, is a tropical tree with a long history of traditional use in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. In recent years, kratom has gained popularity for use as a recreational drug across the globe. Relatively new to the illicit market and used in a manner different from its traditional applications, preparations of kratom are touted by many as a safe and legal psychoactive product that improves mood, relieves pain, and may provide benefits in opiate addiction. Available literature was reviewed for M. speciosa via PubMed, Google Scholar, CINAHL, and EBSCO to summarize its traditional uses, phytochemical composition, pharmacology and toxicology of proposed active constituents, and potential for misuse and abuse. Research has demonstrated that both stimulant and sedative dose-dependent effects do exist, but a growing concern for the drug’s effects and safety of use has resulted in national and international attention primarily due to an increase in hospital visits and deaths in several countries that are said to have been caused by extracts of the plant. The main active alkaloid substances in kratom, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, present with a range of CNS stimulant and depressant effects mediated primarily through monoaminergic and opioid receptors. Recently, Palm Beach County, located in the southeastern corridor of Florida, has considered regulating kratom due to public safety concerns following the death of a young adult. At the local, state, and even federal levels, governments are now being confronted with the task of determining the safety and the possible regulation of kratom extracts. There are currently no standard analytical screening techniques for mitragynine and its metabolites following ingestion limiting its detection to more sophisticated techniques like liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to determine kratom use. The growing concern of the abuse potential of kratom requires careful evaluation of its benefits and potential toxicities.

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Correspondence to Oliver Grundmann.

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Warner, M.L., Kaufman, N.C. & Grundmann, O. The pharmacology and toxicology of kratom: from traditional herb to drug of abuse. Int J Legal Med 130, 127–138 (2016).

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  • Kratom
  • Stimulant
  • Mitragyna speciosa
  • Psychoactive
  • Drug abuse