04 November 2006
From New Scientist Print Edition
Edward Shellard London, UK
We were interested to read about kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) in your article about "legal highs" (30 September, p 40). We did considerable research into its chemistry in the 1960s and 70s with colleagues in the pharmacognosy laboratories at what was then Chelsea College.
The leaves of the tree are chewed, or sometimes smoked, by labourers in Malaysia and Thailand as a stimulant to help them carry heavy loads for long distances over many hours. We found that the main alkaloid, of several present, was a mild analgesic. Since your writer Gaia Vince made a tea it is not surprising that she did not obtain much effect - it is unlikely that water would extract the same constituents as those obtained by chewing the leaves.
The labourers suffered ill effects, sooner or later. This must surely raise concerns about the unsupervised use of the leaves. Much investigation is needed of kratom's constituents other than alkaloids and of the biochemistry and pharmacology of the compounds. Funding for such vital research on natural products is unfortunately scarce in the UK, leaving colleagues in other parts of the world, notably east Asia, to take the rich pickings available.
From issue 2576 of New Scientist magazine, 04 November 2006, page 25
SWIM guesses Gaia Vince just had some crappy kratom....
What a trooper risking 'ill effects' for the sake of science and journalism.