Kratom: Introduction “New Psychoactive substances…” article analysis

The following is an analysis over the journal article: “New psychoactive substances of natural origin: a brief review” and the sources contained within itself. 

We want evidence, we want truth…

Many people allude to the idea that there is “little to no research on kratom.” While this is true, because kratom is already legal, I see great benefit to educating the general public on as much as we DO know about this plant.

Most people have very little access to journal articles or reviews that have actual scientific or medical research with anything of substance. I came upon this article through an acquaintance of mine who is a doctor; she was able to find this article through her access to a medical journal. This article looks at several psychoactive substances and it includes an analysis of kratom, specifically looking at what we know of the chemistry, pharmacology, and toxicology of the plant. What I would like to do is give an overview of the article and hand you the evidence so you can make an informed decision about what you put in your body. I’m concerned that not everyone who takes kratom is really educated, so my aim is to inform you.


I want to present the information in an unbiased fashion, but I decided to write this overview because it will be easier to understand. While reading it myself, I took the time to stop and make sure I understood what I was reading, so I thought I would synthesize it for you.  I have made a point to define many of the terms that I myself did not recognize or fully understand so that you feel you can also get a firm grip on what researchers are saying about kratom.


I will provide a general overview of kratom as the authors of this article describe and detail, reviews of the chemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, and conclusions. I’ll split it up into four different blog posts accordingly, beginning with the overview; I hope you find this helpful!



In the abstract, the authors state their purpose is to bring awareness on these Psychoactive substances so we all can pay more attention, taking action as needed. It is clear throughout the article that the authors are at least fair in their assessment of each substance and make an effort to relay the information in as unbiased a way as possible. They state in the abstract that, “…many, if not most, natural plants with addictive or abuse liability remain elusive.” Even if you are a fan of kratom, one must admit, just as with any substance, that it has potential for abuse. I believe this “abuse liability” relates to 1)the lack of evidence we have on how often and at what doses to take it, but 2) mostly relates to the user and their responsibility or irresponsibility. The elusivity they refer to in regards to kratom is the lack of research and studies conducted to gather sufficient evidence and to finally arrive at a scientifically valid conclusion. As I’ll address later, the authors and doctors who wrote this review were unable to reach a conclusion; therefore, neither should we.



A synthetic drug is “a substance, made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product; having truth or falsity determinable by recourse to experience.” This definition refers to many street and illegal drugs which are created by humans in an attempt to achieve a certain result or drugs that are in replica of something natural.  The Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Pyschotropic Substances were created to deal with such synthetic drugs. Admittedly, I see the problem with synthetic drugs because it is quite often that we see man made creations turning around to harm people, animals or the environment, even when intended for good.


A psychotropic or psychoactive substance is a little bit different, it is not necessarily man made, but is a “chemical substance acting primarily on the central nervous system where it alters brain function, resulting in temporary changes in perception, mood, consciousness and behavior.” We would be wrong in saying that kratom is not a psychoactive substance because, like prescription medication, many claim that kratom is used to change at least perception and mood, if not in any other way. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.


As defined by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, New Psychoactive Substances or NPS are substances “with no comprehensively scientific studies on their toxicity and abuse liability,” and they dictate that these NPS “may pose a threat to public health’ (emphasis mine).

The fact that many of these NPS may pose a threat to public health is a fair statement; however, it is only fair because not all NPS are created equal.


“There were “more than 600 substances [reported] as of December 2015. In the market, NPS have been known by terms such as ‘designer drugs’, ‘research chemicals’, ‘legal ‘highs’, ‘herbal highs’ and ‘bath salts.’ While the term ‘legal highs’ or ‘herbal highs’ implies that NPS offer a legal alternative to controlled drugs, ‘designer drugs’ etc…are often used to describe the NPS that are chemically synthesized or structurally modified.”


So, in plain English, some of the NPS that are referred to here are still of human origin-those that are synthesized or modified from their original state. So even if they are derived from a natural product, some NPS are still considered “synthetic.” As far as kratom is concerned, people are talking about and/or using two different things–kratom in its natural state (crushed/powdered kratom leaf), or kratom in a modified state. When it comes to  herbal psychoactive substances, the abuse or dependence liability is derived from “the active ingredients in the natural NPS” which “are alkaloids.”



Okay, that was a lot of information, so I’m going to stop there. It’s really easy to get lost in all the jargon, but I think it’s a good place to stop because I want to make a really important clarification. Kratom has potential for a lot of good and although we don’t necessarily know what the abuse or dependence liability is of natural, additive-free kratom, we do know that derivations from the original plant and/or modifications and mixtures with kratom can be deadly. Please use and purchase with caution!


To be continued…


The credit for all the quotes goes to:
Feng, Ling-Yi , et al. New psychoactive substances of natural origin: a brief review. Journal of Food and Drug Administration.