Jakarta, Indonesia – In recent years, kratom leaves have sparked intense debate globally, and particularly in Southeast Asia. Known scientifically as Mitragyna speciosa, kratom is a tropical evergreen tree native to Southeast Asia, with leaves that have been used traditionally for their medicinal properties. However, its inclusion in the list of narcotic plants in various countries, including Indonesia, has raised concerns about its effects and potential for abuse.

A Traditional Remedy Turned Controversial

For centuries, kratom leaves have been used in Southeast Asia as a traditional remedy for pain relief, to boost energy, and to alleviate symptoms of opioid withdrawal. The leaves are typically chewed, brewed into a tea, or ground into a powder. The active compounds in kratom, primarily mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, interact with the brain’s opioid receptors, producing effects similar to both stimulants and opioids depending on the dosage.

At low doses, kratom acts as a stimulant, increasing energy, alertness, and sociability. At higher doses, it has sedative effects, relieving pain and potentially inducing euphoria. This dual nature has made kratom both a traditional medicine and a recreational drug, leading to its controversial status in the modern world.

Health Benefits and Risks


  1. Pain Relief: Kratom’s most well-known benefit is its ability to alleviate chronic pain, making it an alternative to prescription opioids.
  2. Opioid Withdrawal: Many individuals use kratom to manage symptoms of opioid withdrawal, as it can mitigate the severe effects of detoxification.
  3. Energy and Focus: In smaller doses, kratom can enhance physical and mental energy, making it popular among laborers and students in Southeast Asia.


  1. Addiction and Dependency: Regular use of kratom can lead to physical dependence and addiction, similar to other opioids. Withdrawal symptoms can include irritability, muscle aches, and insomnia.
  2. Health Complications: High doses of kratom can cause nausea, constipation, and in severe cases, liver damage and seizures. There have also been reports of deaths associated with kratom use, particularly when combined with other substances.
  3. Mental Health: Prolonged use can lead to psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, and hallucinations.

Legal Status in Indonesia and Beyond

Indonesia, one of the largest producers of kratom, has a complex relationship with the plant. While kratom is traditionally used in some rural areas, the Indonesian government has classified it as a narcotic under its narcotics law, citing concerns about abuse and public health. This classification aligns Indonesia with countries like Thailand and Malaysia, which have also imposed strict regulations on kratom use.

In the United States, the legal status of kratom varies by state. While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has considered classifying kratom as a Schedule I substance (a category for drugs with no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse), it remains legal at the federal level. However, several states and municipalities have enacted their own bans or regulations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also taken an interest in kratom. In a recent review, the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) decided not to recommend a global ban on kratom, recognizing its potential for both medical use and abuse. The committee called for more research to better understand its effects and to develop regulatory guidelines.

Economic Impact

The kratom industry is a significant economic driver in regions where the plant is cultivated. In Indonesia, particularly in provinces like Kalimantan and Sumatra, kratom farming provides livelihoods for thousands of farmers. The plant is harvested, processed, and exported, primarily to the United States and Europe, where demand has surged.

Farmers argue that kratom is a vital crop that supports their families and local economies. “Kratom has lifted us out of poverty,” says Budi, a farmer from West Kalimantan. “Without it, many of us would struggle to survive.”

However, the potential for a complete ban poses a threat to these communities. Advocacy groups and some local officials are pushing for regulated cultivation and export rather than an outright prohibition. They argue that with proper oversight, the benefits of kratom can be harnessed while minimizing the risks.

Scientific Research and Medical Community

The medical community remains divided on kratom. Some researchers see promise in its potential as a pain reliever and a tool for managing opioid withdrawal. Studies have shown that mitragynine, the primary active alkaloid in kratom, binds to opioid receptors but does not cause the same degree of respiratory depression as traditional opioids, suggesting a lower risk of fatal overdose.

However, other researchers and healthcare professionals warn against its use, citing the lack of comprehensive clinical trials and the potential for addiction and other adverse effects. “We need more rigorous scientific studies to understand the safety profile of kratom,” says Dr. Amelia Putri, a pharmacologist at the University of Indonesia. “It’s crucial to balance potential benefits with the risks.”

Regulation and Future Outlook

The path forward for kratom is likely to involve increased regulation rather than outright bans. Proponents advocate for a regulatory framework that includes quality control, labeling requirements, and age restrictions. Such measures could help prevent adulteration, ensure consumer safety, and limit access to vulnerable populations.

Internationally, there is growing consensus that kratom should be regulated rather than prohibited. The European Union is considering a regulatory approach that would allow kratom to be sold as a dietary supplement with stringent safety standards.

In Indonesia, ongoing discussions among lawmakers, health officials, and kratom producers aim to find a balanced solution. Some proposed measures include licensing for kratom farmers, establishing a national registry, and conducting public health campaigns to educate consumers about the risks and benefits of kratom use.

Public Perception and Cultural Significance

Public perception of kratom varies widely. In Southeast Asia, particularly in rural areas, kratom is often seen as a natural and traditional remedy. In the West, it has gained popularity as a herbal supplement, marketed for its pain-relieving and energizing properties.

However, the stigma associated with narcotic substances affects kratom users and producers. Many people remain unaware of the differences between kratom and synthetic opioids, leading to misconceptions and fear. This highlights the need for accurate information and public education to dispel myths and provide a balanced understanding of kratom.


The story of kratom is one of tradition, controversy, and economic significance. As a plant with the potential for both therapeutic benefits and abuse, it occupies a complex position in the global landscape of natural medicines and narcotic substances. Indonesia, as a major producer and stakeholder, finds itself at the center of the debate, grappling with how to balance the needs of its people, the demands of the market, and the imperatives of public health.

The future of kratom will likely be shaped by continued research, informed regulation, and a nuanced understanding of its risks and benefits. As policymakers, scientists, and communities work together, the goal will be to harness kratom’s potential while safeguarding public health and ensuring sustainable livelihoods for those who depend on its cultivation.

In the words of Minister of Health, Budi Gunadi Sadikin, “Kratom presents both an opportunity and a challenge. It is our responsibility to navigate this path with wisdom, ensuring that our decisions benefit our people and protect their well-being.”