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BioMed Research International
Volume 2015, Article ID 968786, 11 pages
Research Article

Following “the Roots” of Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa): The Evolution of an Enhancer from a Traditional Use to Increase Work and Productivity in Southeast Asia to a Recreational Psychoactive Drug in Western Countries

1Centre for Clinical & Health Research Services, School of Life and Medical Sciences, University of Hertfordshire, College Lane Campus, Hatfield, Herts AL10 9AB, UK
2Department of Neuroscience, Imaging and Clinical Sciences, Gabriele D’Annunzio University, Chieti, Italy
3Centre for Drug Research, Universiti Sains, Penang, Malaysia
4Institute of Psychology, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary
5London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Health and Social Care, London, UK
6Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
7Department of Neurology and Psychiatry, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy
8School of Pharmacy and Ph.D. Program in Toxicology, Kaohsiung Medical University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
9Faculty of Health Sciences, Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary
10Nyírő Gyula Hospital, National Institute of Psychiatry and Addictions, Budapest, Hungary

Received 7 August 2015; Revised 13 October 2015; Accepted 15 October 2015

Academic Editor: Yu-Ping Tang

Copyright © 2015 Eduardo Cinosi et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The use of substances to enhance human abilities is a constant and cross-cultural feature in the evolution of humanity. Although much has changed over time, the availability on the Internet, often supported by misleading marketing strategies, has made their use even more likely and risky. This paper will explore the case of Mitragyna speciosa Korth. (kratom), a tropical tree used traditionally to combat fatigue and improve work productivity among farm populations in Southeast Asia, which has recently become popular as novel psychoactive substance in Western countries. Specifically, it (i) reviews the state of the art on kratom pharmacology and identification; (ii) provides a comprehensive overview of kratom use cross-culturally; (iii) explores the subjective experiences of users; (iv) identifies potential risks and side-effects related to its consumption. Finally, it concludes that the use of kratom is not negligible, especially for self-medication, and more clinical, pharmacological, and socioanthropological studies as well as a better international collaboration are needed to tackle this marginally explored phenomenon.