What is all the controversy?

Plants cannot be patented

As kratom is relatively new to western society, we do not yet have a good frame of reference regarding its safety and potential long-term effects on health. 

Unfortunately the FDA, tasked with protecting the citizens of this country from potential health threats, has resorted to a propaganda campaign against the plant, rather than engaging in a balanced and objective analysis. 

There are very valid reasons to suspect that they are being encouraged along this path by their close associates and allies in the pharmaceutical industry.  The nature of this relationship is well illustrated by their behavior with regards to cannabis, in which the FDA and DEA repeatedly assert that there are no demonstrated medical benefits from the plant, while working with pharmaceutical companies to approve and market drugs derived from or modeled after substances in the plant. 

A prime example of this is the case of Insys Therapeutics, an Arizona pharmaceutical company that donated $500,000 to efforts to prevent legalization of marijuana, just shortly before getting permission to market another form of the synthetic THC-derivative dronabinol.  They market products containing the opioid fentanyl, and describe themselves as “a leader in the development, manufacture and commercialization of pharmaceutical cannabinoids and spray technology“.

What does this have to do with Mitragyna speciosa?  The FDA and DEA continue to assert that kratom has no demonstrable therapeutic value, and are mounting a vigorous effort to ban it.  Yet pharmaceutical firms and pharmacology researchers continue to research the potential therapeutic uses of its various physiologically-active compounds

Here are two of many studies intended to find patentable compounds in kratom:



Here is a patent for the use of kratom in the treatment of drug dependence. It states that:

  • “This invention was made with government support awarded by: i) the National Institutes of Health (grant number NIH 022677); ii) the National Institute For Drug Abuse (grant numbers DA022677 and DA014929); and iii) the National Center for Research Resources (grant number P20RR021929). The government has certain rights in the invention.”

            Methods For Treating Withdrawal From Addictive Compounds

Notice that the very government that is publicly stating that kratom has no demonstrable therapeutic value lays claim to a patent that begins with this sentence: “Kratom (Mitragynia speciosa korth) is recognized increasingly as a remedy for opioid withdrawal by individuals who self-treat chronic pain and/or generalized substance abuse.” 

Plant medicines are not simple, and this frustrates and interferes with the reductionist perspective that  dominates western medicine. 

Here is a link to a study of receptor signalling in Mitragyna alkaloids that suggests that there are mu-opioid antagonists (compounds that counteract the effect) also present in kratom that likely reduce opioid effects.   

“However, the other major alkaloids isolated from the plant, paynanthiene, speciogynine, and speciociliatine, all exhibited competitive antagonist activity at this receptor. Considering that cumulatively, these secondary alkaloids accounted for an approximately equal percentage of the total alkaloid content compared to mitragynine in our extracts, the gross psychoactive effects of crude plant material are likely to represent a complex interplay of competing agonist and antagonist effects at the opioid receptors.”

This can be roughly translated into plain English as “Kratom contains opioids, but it also contains Narcan.”   Western science likes to deal with one tiny, easily controlled element in a vastly complex biologic organism.  It prefers to pretend that by focusing on one molecule that it can find the ultimate answer, despite the fact that the complexity of the system exceeds our ability to control for every variable.  The result is that western medicine, and the US government, do not like plants as medicine.  They prefer that people take a single chemical that, while accomplishing one thing, often inadvertently does something else.  They much prefer that we medicate ourselves with something that can be patented.