History of Kratom
Kratom is native to Southeast Asia, including Thailand, where a number of different kratom strains grow in the wild. Kratom has deep ties to Thai culture, as the kratom tree grows everywhere in the island nation and it has been used by local cultures for thousands of years.
Notably, though, kratom has been considered illegal to possess or grow in Thailand since August 3, 1943. On this date, the Thai government enacted what is known as the Kratom Act 2486, which outlawed the cultivation and possession of this plant, which had long been used by native cultures as a natural medicine.
It’s said that Thailand’s Kratom Act 2486 was passed in response to the booming opium trade. The Thai government stood to earn a significant profit, as they enacted laws that imposed duties and taxes on opium growers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers. It’s said that banning kratom in Thailand was one measure that was intended to help protect these interests.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Thailand was seeing a time of tremendous political unrest, under the rule of Luang Phibunsongkhram, who approved authoritarian laws that provided the Thai government with tremendous control, including virtually unlimited arrest powers and full press censorship capabilities.
Thailand’s field workers would spend as much as 18 hours a day, hard at work in the fields and it was kratom that they utilized to help them get through the day. They chewed kratom leaves to help alleviate the pain from the hard labor, while also providing a sense of peace and calm as they worked day after day. In this era, a seven-day work week was typical for Thai field workers.
In fact, kratom came to be known in Thailand as the “poor man’s marijuana,” which was another natural substance that was commonly utilized, although it was far more expensive. It has even been said that when a man proposed marriage to a woman, the woman’s family would hold the man in higher regard if he was a “kratom chewer” (instead of a marijuana smoker,”) as this implied that the woman’s future husband was a hard worker – a trait that was highly regarded in this culture.
In time, kratom became the go-to plant for the Thai working class. It was effective, non-addictive, widely available and often free since the kratom tree grows wild. Many started using kratom to ease their opium addictions – a fact that disturbed government officials, who were earning a significant profit from not just the opium trade, but also the local opium addicts.
The situation went downhill when the East Asian War broke out in 1942. This left the Thai government even more desperate for funds, so they eliminated opium’s “competitor” – kratom – by outlawing the plant. This is evidenced by what few records remain from this time. In a January 1942 Thai House of Representatives meeting, one member said that “Taxes for opium are high while kratom is not currently being taxed. With the increase of those taxes, people are starting to use kratom instead and this has had a visible impact on our government’s income.” Notably, despite kratom’s “criminalization” by the Thai government, it was rarely enforced and the public continued to use kratom thanks to the millions of trees that grow wild across the nation. A 1979 law called The Narcotics Act placed kratom in the Schedule 5 category, alongside cannabis. Schedule 5 is the least restrictive category which provides many with hope that it may someday be de-criminalized.
At the time of the ban, kratom had been in use for more than 3,000 years (or perhaps even longer.) Native Thailand cultures have long used kratom – also called “ketum,” “krathom” or “thom,” as it is known in Southern Thailand. Kratom grows in all areas of Thailand, so the cultural ties are quite significant, but kratom’s cultural significance tends to be the strongest in the southern regions.
Workers such as farmers, fishermen and in more modern times, rubber tree tappers, would use kratom to help ease the pain and provide an energy boost, while traditional Thai medicine has long used kratom to treat pain and injuries, diarrhea, anxiety, sleeplessness, fever and even as a poultice for wounds.
More recently, there have been movements to de-criminalize kratom in Thailand. Thai Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri (who, notably, is from the southern region of Thailand, where kratom plays a major social role) has made a move to remove kratom from the nation’s narcotics list. Many politicians have been successful in providing evidence that kratom is no more addictive than coffee and causes no social harm. Modern Thai politicians have also pointed to the fact that kratom’s 1943 ban was rooted in politics and economics, rather than in true public health dangers. Even Thailand’s Narcotics Control Board admitted that kratom does not hold any serious risk of abuse and implies that legalization would cause no social harm.