Kratom leaves: Are they really a dangerous drug? (with video)

Kratom leaves: Are they really a dangerous drug? (with video)

Follow three young men into Pattani's forest for a Kratom cookout. Despite use as folk medicine for stomach aches, diarrhoea, light pain relief or pick-me-up-snack, Kratom illegal since 1943 but is part of southern Thailand's culture & may have medicinal uses.

Simple mix: 4x100 is named after its four main ingredients — kratom leaves, cough syrup, Coca-Cola and ice. Kratom leaves are a mild stimulant and were traditionally chewed by farmers and labourers.


Kratom leaves: Are they really a dangerous drug?

Jeerawat Na Thalang, Spectrum

Home blend: Drug users start by crushing kratom leaves by hand before boiling a batch of 4x100. Best served chilled: Once the ingredients for 4x100 have been cooked together, the pot is cooled down in a container of ice before consumption.

The tropical Kratom tree (Mitragyna speciosa) is found across Thailand and Malaysia and is a member of the coffee family of trees.

The leaves of the tree are a mild stimulant, and were traditionally chewed by farmers and labourers needing a boost or some light pain relief.

Kratom has a long history of household use. Chewing the fresh leaves is a remedy for stomach aches or diarrhoea, while others grill kratom leaves and eat them with chilli paste for a pick-me-up snack. The herb has also used to ease withdrawal from opium addiction.

The drug can be addictive though and those who become addicted to the leaves lose weight and their facial skin darkens. Withdrawal symptoms are similar to prescription painkillers, including mood swings and muscle tremors.

Kratom's popularity is rising. A total of 1.23 million people were found to have used or taken kratom in 2011, compared to 1.08 million in 2008. The highest proportion of users are in the South, where 282,082 people took kratom in 2011. Arrests for kratom possession rose when seizures of the drug went up from 13 tonnes in 2008 to 33 tonnes in 2012, although this levelled out and 14 tonnes were confiscated in 2013.

Hauled in: Kratom seizures like this 250kg haul in Chumphon are increasingly frequent in the South, which a high percentage of users.


Best served chilled: Once the ingredients for 4x100 have been cooked together, the pot is cooled down in a container of ice before consumption.

The recipe for the kratom cocktail 4x100 is simple and all the ingredients are easy to find.

Unlike cooking up methamphetamine, or ya ba, it does not require sophisticated knowledge of pharmaceuticals.

Spectrum followed a group of three men in their twenties into the woods in the border province of Pattani to see how they make the 4X100 drug cocktail.

Mr Sunny (*not his real name), the oldest of the three men, said he and his friends shun alcohol because of Islamic principles.

The cocktail's name 4x100 comes from its four main ingredients — kratom leaves, cough syrup, Coca-Cola and ice.

Cooking meth is a tricky process in which the wrong formula can lead to explosions, but not even a safety mask is needed when making kratom.

Mr Lee*, who is thin and wears a T-shirt and tight jeans, said he sometimes plays the guitar while the others are preparing the cocktail. "It's like we are getting together for a coffee and a chat."

The ingredients for the cooking session are 30 fresh kratom leaves, boiling water, cough syrup and two of small cans of Coca-Cola.

"We make it whenever we feel like it," said the third member of the group as he stirred the juice. "We mostly do it in the afternoon to chill out," he added, since the drink makes him sleepy. 

Mr Sunny has a small kratom tree in his backyard, but it does not provide enough leaves for daily consumption. When he wants to make 4x100, he buys 30 kratom leaves for 200 baht from a local dealer. Those who don’t want to brew 4x100 themselves can buy it in various forms, including a powdered version or ready-to-drink, but Mr Sunny prefers to blend it himself using fresh leaves which smell better. 


The debate over kratom's medicinal use has so far lacked scientific evidence but researchers at the Prince of Songkla University in Hat Yai are currently studying the potential beneficial medical properties of kratom.

A study on the use of kratom as an antidepressant for patients recovering from alcohol addiction finds that alkaloid-rich extracts from kratom may alleviate sleep disturbance which is a common alcohol withdrawal symptom. Kratom might also aid morphine and opium withdrawal.


The Kratom Act of 1943 made the tree illegal around 60 years ago.  A Senate report in November 2003 said kratom was first banned because the government at that time wanted to boost tax revenue, a high portion of which at that time came from opium. Back then, the government had monopolised the opium trade and was earning revenue from taxes charged on it. But since opium prices were high, some users shifted to taking kratom leaves to help with withdrawal.

Kratom is not classified as a narcotic drug by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime but is considered a plant-based "new psychotropic substance". The US calls kratom a drug of concern and laws on the use of the plant vary between states. In Thailand, kratom is classified as a Category 5 substance under the Narcotic Drug Law of 1979.

But the law has done little to deter drug users, who increasingly turn the traditional leaf into a sweet-tasting drink. Proponents of kratom say it is not strong enough to be considered a drug, while critics warn it can cause aggressive behaviour and psychotic episodes.

In 2013, the Justice Ministry considered legalising kratom to help wean addicts off harder drugs, including meth. However, public opinion was largely against legalising kratom, which many people associate with the insurgency in the South.

High time: The cocktail makes users feel ‘floaty’.

There have also been reports of people mixing pharmaceutical drugs or ya ba and strange ingredients such as the ash from mosquito coils into cocktail concoctions.

In 2011, the Transnational Institute advocated legalising kratom use in recommendations published on the UN Office on Drug and Crime website. The organisation said kratom is an integral part of southern Thai culture. "Criminalisation of kratom is unnecessary and counterproductive given decades of unproblematic use," the report wrote.

The report also recommended revising "thresholds for sentencing in regards to boiling 4x100, which should not be considered as the production of a new drug” and called for "unhindered access to kratom for scientific research and to explore medicinal properties, especially its potential as a substitution drug to manage alcohol and drug dependence."

Drug developers: Dania Cheaha, left, and Ekkasit Kumarnsit, second left, and their team are studying the effects of kratom on rats. They hope their work will progress treatment for alcoholics

In the name of science: A team at Prince of Songkla University attached sockets containing intracranial electrodes to the skulls of 40 lab rats. The electrodes were then used to measure how an alkaloid-rich extract from kratom leaves affected activity in specific brain areas.

Hope for addicts: Researchers think kratom could serve as an antidepressant to alleviate alcohol withdrawal symptoms without negative side effects.

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  • Act: a law passed by a country’s government - กฎหมาย
  • addicted: unable to stop using or doing something - ซึ่งติดนิสัยในบางอย่าง
  • addiction: a strong need that someone feels to regularly take an illegal or harmful drug - การติดยาเสพติด
  • addictive (adj): of something, e.g., especially a drug, a game, an activity like gambling, which you cannot stop once you have started - ซึ่งทำให้ติดได้; ซึ่งทำให้ติดยาได้
  • aggressive: behaving in an angry and violent way towards another person - ก้าวร้าว
  • aid: help; assistance - ความช่วยเหลือ
  • alcohol: drinks such as whiskey, beer, wine, etc that make people feel good and become drunk - เหล้า, สุรา
  • alleviate: to make something less painful, severe, or serious - ทำให้บรรเทา ทำให้น้อยลง
  • anti (adjective): against - ตรงกันข้าม, ต้าน
  • antidepressant: a drug that helps people with depression; can stop their very sad or depressed condition -
  • arrest: (of the police or, in this case, soldiers) to take someone under control because they are believed to have committed a crime - จับกุม
  • backyard (noun): the area in back of a house - สวนหลังบ้าน, พื้นที่หลังบ้าน
  • banned: officially not allowed to do something - ถูกห้าม
  • base: to use an idea, a fact, a situation, etc. as the point from which something can be developed - วางรากฐาน
  • beneficial: helpful or good - มีประโยชน์
  • blend: to combine or mix with other things in an attractive or effective way - ผสม
  • boost: something that helps or encourages somebody/something - สิ่งกระตุ้น
  • boost: to increase - เพิ่ม
  • border: the official line separating two areas, regions or countries - เขตแดน อาณาเขต
  • brew: to make a liquid through a process, especially beer - ปรุง
  • chat: a friendly informal conversation - การพูดคุย
  • chill out: to spend time relaxing; to relax and stop feeling angry or nervous about something - เงียบลง , สงบลง
  • classified (adj): secret government information - ที่เป็นความลับทางราชการ, ที่เปิดเผยเฉพาะเจ้าหน้าที่เท่านั้น
  • cocktail: a mixture - การผสมกัน
  • common: ordinary; not unusual or special - ที่เกิดขึ้นทุกวัน, ธรรมดา
  • concern: a worry - ความกังวล
  • confiscated: officially taken away as a punishment - ยึดทรัพย์
  • consider: to regard as; to think of as - ถือว่า
  • consumption: the act of using energy, food or materials; the amount used - การบริโภคพลังงาน, การใช้หมดไป
  • cough syrup: the sticky sweet liquid medicine taken to stop coughing -
  • critic: a person who expresses disapproval of somebody/something and talks about their bad qualities, especially publicly - ผู้วิจารณ์, ผู้จับผิด, ผู้วิเคราะห์
  • currently: at this time; now - ในปัจจุบัน
  • daily (adj.): happening, done or produced every day - แต่ละวัน, ทุกวัน
  • dealer: a person who sells (illegal drugs in this case) - ผู้จำหน่าย
  • debate: a discussion in which people or groups state different opinions about a subject - การอภิปราย, การโต้วาที, การถกเถียง
  • deter: to make someone decide not to do something - ขัดขวาง, ยับยั้ง, ป้องกัน
  • diarrhoea (noun): an illness in which waste matter is emptied from the bowels much more frequently than normal, and in liquid form - อาการท้องร่วง, ท้องเสีย, ท้องเดิน
  • disturbance: actions/events that upset the normal state that something is in - การรบกวน, การทำให้ไม่สงบ
  • earn a living: to earn enough money to support yourself/your family - หาเลี้ยงชีพ
  • ease: to relieve; to make a problem, situation or pain less severe or serious - บรรเทา
  • episode: an event or set of events that forms part of a longer series but is considered separately - กรณี, ตอน,ฉาก
  • explosion: a large, sudden or rapid increase in the amount or number of something - การระเบิด
  • extract: to remove a substance from another substance - สกัด
  • facial (adj): connected with a person's face; on a person's face - เกี่ยวกับใบหน้า
  • formula: a list of the things that something is made from, giving the amount of each substance to use - สูตร
  • fresh: clearly new and different; clean, bright, and attractive in appearance - ใหม่, กระชุ่มกระชวย, มีชีวิตชีวา
  • fresh: new; made or experienced recently - ใหม่, เมื่อเร็วๆนี้, สดๆ ร้อนๆ
  • grill: to cook something by direct heat, especially under a very hot surface in a cooker - ย่าง
  • herb: a plant normally used as a medicine or for adding flavour to food - สมุนไพร
  • history (noun): all the events that happened in the past - ประวัติศาสตร์
  • household: a group of people, often a family, who live together - ครัวเรือน
  • illegal: against the law - ผิดกฎหมาย, นอกกฎหมาย
  • ingredient: one of the substances that are combined to make something - ส่วนผสม
  • ingredients: foods that are used with other foods in the preparation of a particular dish - ส่วนประกอบ
  • knowledge (noun): all the facts that people know about a subject (example: medical knowledge) - ความรู้
  • labourer: a person whose job involves hard physical work that is not skilled, especially work that is done outdoors - กรรมกร, ผู้ใช้แรงงาน
  • lack (verb): to not have something - ขาด
  • levelled out: stopped rising or falling and stayed at the same level -
  • medical: connected with illness and injury and their treatment - ทางการแพทย์, ด้านการแพทย์, เกี่ยวกับการแพทย์
  • medicinal (adj): helpful in the process of healing illness or infection - ซึ่งมีคุณสมบัติเป็นยา
  • member: a person, a country or an organization that has joined a particular group, club or team - สมาชิก
  • meth: short for "methamphetamine" -
  • methamphetamine: a stimulant drug that increases alertness and energy, but which is dangerous when taken in large amounts or over a long period of time - ยาบ้า
  • mild: not strong - เบา, ไม่หนัก, ไม่รุนแรง
  • monopolise: to prevent other people from using something or being involved in something; to completely control a business activity - ผูกขาด
  • mood swings: changes in mood, especially big changes - การเปลี่ยนแปลงทางอารมณ์
  • muscle (noun): a piece of body tissue that you contract and relax in order to move a particular part of the body; the tissue that forms the muscles of the body - กล้ามเนื้อ
  • narcotic: an illegal drug such as heroin, cocaine or crystal methamphetamine - ยาเสพย์ติด
  • opium (noun): a powerful illegal drug made from poppy flowers and used in the past to reduce pain - ฝิ่น
  • pain: the feelings that you have in your body when you have been hurt or when you are ill/sick; mental or emotional suffering - ความเจ็บปวด
  • painkiller (noun): a drug that reduces pain - ยาแก้ปวด, ยาบรรเทาปวด
  • paste: powder mixed with water to make a thick substance that can easily spread - แป้งเปียก
  • patient: someone who is receiving medical treatment - คนป่วย, คนไข้
  • pharmaceutical: connected with the production of medicines - เกี่ยวกับเภสัชกรรม, เกี่ยวกับยา
  • pick-me-up: giving you energy when you are tired -
  • popularity: a situation in which someone or something is liked by many people - ความเป็นที่นิยม, ความเป็นที่ชื่นชอบ
  • portion: a part of something - ส่วน
  • possession: having or owning something - การครอบครอง
  • potential: possible in the future - ที่อาจเป็นไปได้
  • prefer: to like or want more than anyone or anything else - ชอบมากกว่า
  • prescription: an official piece of paper on which a doctor writes the type of medicine you should have, and which enables you to get it from a chemist's shop/drugstore - ใบสั่งยา
  • principle: a basic rule or belief about what is right - หลักการ
  • process: a series of actions that you take in order to achieve a result - แนวทางปฏิบัติ, กระบวน, วิธีการ
  • property: a quality or feature of something - คุณสมบัติ, ลักษณะประจำของสาร
  • proponent: a person who speaks publicly in support of a particular idea or plan of action - ผู้เสนอ, ผู้สนับสนุน, ผู้เห็นด้วย
  • proportion: part or share of a whole - สัดส่วน
  • province: one of many divisions of the government of a country into smaller parts - จังหวัด
  • ready-to-drink: a drink prepared in advance so that you can use/eat it immediately สำเร็จรูป -
  • recipe: a set of instructions for cooking or preparing a particular food - วิธีปรุง, ตำรากับข้าว
  • recover: to become healthy and fit again after an illness or injury - การฟื้นไข้
  • relief: help for improving a bad physical condition or a bad situation - ผ่อนคลาย, บรรเทา
  • remedy: a cure for pain or a minor illness - ยา, ยาบรรเทา
  • require: to make somebody do or have something, especially because it is necessary according to a particular law or set of rules - บังคับใช้ (กฎหมาย) กำหนด
  • researcher: a person who carriers out a careful study of a subject, especially in order to discover new facts or information about it - นักวิจัย
  • revenue: income from taxes or business activities - รายได้
  • seizure: the act of taking control of something, especially by using power or force - การบุกเข้ายึด
  • Senate: one of the two groups of politicians who make laws in some countries, for example in the US, Australia, Canada and Thailand - วุฒิสภา
  • session (noun): a period of time that is spent doing a particular activity -
  • shun: to deliberately avoid a person, place or activity - หลบเลี่ยง
  • similar: like somebody/something but not exactly the same - คล้ายกัน
  • skin: the outside covering of the body - ผิวหนัง
  • snack: a small meal or amount of food, usually eaten in a hurry - อาหารว่าง, อาหารเบาๆ
  • so far: up until this time - จนถึงทุกวันนี้
  • sophisticated: complicated and advanced in design or planning - ซับซ้อน
  • stimulant: a substance that makes a part of your body work faster or better; a substance that makes you feel more awake when you eat it or drink it - สารกระตุ้น
  • stomach ache (noun): pain in or near your stomach - ปวดท้อง
  • study: a project that looks at some subject in great detail and produces a report to share the information - งานวิจัย
  • substance: a particular type of liquid, solid, or gas - สาร
  • symptom: a sign that someone has an illness - อาการ
  • tax: money that you have to pay to the government so that it can pay for public services - ภาษี
  • trade: the buying and selling of goods and services - การค้าขาย
  • traditionally: of a custom, a way of life or a way of doing things that has not changed for a long time - ตามธรรมเนียม, ประเพณี ดั้งเดิม ตามที่ปฏิบัติกันมา
  • tremor: a shaking of the earth; an earthquake - การสั่นสะเทือน
  • tricky: difficult to do or deal with - ยาก
  • tropical: relating to the hottest area of the Earth, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn - ในเขตร้อน
  • vary: to be different in different situations - ปรวนแปร, เปลี่ยนแปลง, แตกต่าง
  • version: a particular form of something which varies slightly from other forms of the same thing - ชุด, เวอร์ชั่น
  • withdrawal: the reaction of the body when a person stops using something they are addicted to, such as cigarettes, alcohol or drugs - อาการขาดยา
  • woods: an area of trees, smaller than a forest - ป่าไม้
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