Medically, Kratom can be used to ease anxiety, chronic pain, and opioid withdrawal symptoms. The plant has been used in traditional medicine throughout Southeast Asia since at least the early 19th century and its leaves were once served to welcome guests into the home.
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa Korthals) is an arborescent plant species that is indigenous to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. In Thailand, Kratom is mostly grown in the central and southern regions of the country, with some species reaching heights of almost 100 feet. Kratom plants generally prefer wet, humus soil and are typically found in swamps or marshlands. When grown outside their natural habitat, Kratom plants may experience leaf fall, particularly when exposed to colder climates.
Users from Thailand and Malaysia distinguish between different types of Kratom, with two of the main types being the red-veined variety and the green-veined variety. The latter is said to elicit stronger effects and is typically ingested as fresh or dried leaves with others opting to smoke them. Alternatively, users may opt to drink Kratom as a tea or consume the plant’s extract which derives from its crude resin. Despite the plant’s notoriety, virtually all negative reports surrounding Kratom involve either large doses or simultaneous use with other illicit drugs.
While Kratom may be widely available around the world, a growing number of countries, including Thailand, regard Kratom as a narcotic drug. Inter-governmental organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (“ASEAN”) also consider Kratom as an illicit drug. Consequently, no traditional medicines or dietary supplements in these jurisdictions can contain Kratom, making buying, selling, or using the plant impossible in those places.
History of Kratom in Thailand
Thailand first restricted the use of Kratom for medical purposes in 1943 in response to its rise in popularity when the cost of opium rose significantly due to strict laws shutting down the country’s illicit opium market. In 1979, Kratom was reclassified as a Schedule 5 drug under the Narcotics Act B.E. 2522 (1979). Specifically, the Kratom Act, which passed in 1943, was promulgated to limit the use and propagation of Kratom trees, which made planting new Kratom trees in Thailand illegal while simultaneously making the destruction of existing trees mandatory.
Since that time, Thailand has been party to several conventions and agreements about narcotic substances, namely the 1962 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances; though none of them specifically mention Kratom among their list of prohibited substances.
Thailand’s stance towards Kratom changed at the end of 2019 after the government legalized the production, possession, and use of cannabis and Kratom for medical purposes. While producers will be able to import and export Kratom under the new legislation, they are still required to have licenses to handle the substance while end-users must obtain a prescription to use Kratom-based medication. Recreational use of both cannabis and Kratom remain illegal in the country and are punishable by prison terms and fines.
Legal developments in Kratom regulations
At present, holding up to 10 kilograms of Kratom without permission from the Thai government will be considered as ‘possession for use’ which holds a maximum sentence of five years in prison and/or a fine of 50,000 Baht. Possession of more than 10 kilograms will be considered ‘possession with an intention to sell’ and is punishable by two to 15 years in prison and/or a fine of 20,000 to 150,000 Baht. Additional charges can be levied on those caught with more than 10 kilograms for producing, importing and/or exporting an illicit drug.
However, legal amendments to ease restrictions on Kratom are likely to be enacted by the end of 2020 or early 2021. The sub-committee on Kratom deregulation has stated that the Narcotics Control Board has already provided information regarding the amendments needed to relax the ban, while the draft amendments to the Narcotics Act, which delists Kratom from the Schedule 5 list of narcotic substances, has been approved by the Cabinet. It is currently undergoing consideration by the Office of the Council of the State of Thailand and will be deliberated by parliament once approved by the Council.
Despite these developments, it is worth noting that consuming, cultivating, researching, and experimenting with Kratom can only be carried out within the limitations determined by relevant governmental bodies, though the approval criteria are yet to be published. The upcoming amendments will only take effect once they have been published in the Royal Thai Gazette. Therefore, producing, distributing, or possessing Kratom until that time, even for medical or research purposes, remains illegal.
In summary, there is a good possibility that Thailand will allow Kratom to be cultivated or sold, though it is important to take note of the full extent of Kratom’s legalization. In the meantime, Silk Legal will continue to monitor legal developments on this matter and will post updates accordingly.
Are you considering participating in Thailand’s upcoming Kratom industry? Talk to us for more information about the options available to you. Contact us at [email protected]