The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is now free to ban all access to a plant known as kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) that for centuries has served as a natural remedy for pain, and that's helped countless opiate addicts overcome withdrawal symptoms. The federal government claims that kratom serves no legitimate medical purpose, but a closer look reveals that not only is the opposite true, but drug companies actually hold patents on kratom's medicinal compounds. Public uproar after the DEA announced its plans has led to the agency saying in statements that it has no "timetable for officially listing kratom—it could be next week or longer—leaving users on the edge of their seats," according to ARS Technica.
The DEA plans to classify kratom as a "Schedule I" drug – the highest classification reserved for hard drugs like heroin – and claims that kratom has a high potential for abuse and serves no legitimate purpose in health. However, several patents, including one dating back to 1964, show that kratom's alkaloid compounds indeed exhibit pharmacodynamic activity.
Three compounds in particular – MGM-9, MGM-15, and MGM-16 – serve as proof that kratom holds therapeutic potential. Each of these synthetic opioid compounds was synthesized from various alkaloids present in the kratom plant; MGM-9 came from a compound known as mitragynine, while MGM-15 and MGM-16 came from 7-hydroxymitragynine. These two compounds are considered to be among the primary active constituents in kratom.
MGM-15 and MGM-16 have been shown in studies to aid in treating both acute and chronic pain, while others demonstrate analgesic activity in a highly potent, yet low- or non-addictive way. That's what makes kratom unique from the opiate drugs derived from it: It works, its safe and users don't become addicted to it.
The pharmacological potential of kratom is so immense that some of the first patents on its medicinal use were filed as far back as the 1960s, one of these concluding that a kratom alkaloid known as Speciofoline has "useful pharmacodynamic activity, particularly analgetic and antitussive activity."