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Trends in Southeast Asian Kratom Use

A map of Southeast Asia with a bowl of kratom

Kratom comes originally from a number of Southeast Asian countries, and its history in that region is long and storied.

But just like kratom itself, kratom use in Southeast Asia has been largely ignored here in the States. And yet, new interest in the region’s relationship with kratom is emerging, and a number of studies are being put forth to better understand kratom’s origins, effects, and usage.

In this article, we examine one such study: a review of the historical trends in Southeast Asian kratom use. While the information it contains isn’t revolutionary, it does shine a useful spotlight on kratom’s origins — as well as some troubling developments in its modern use.

All in all, it’s a useful review with a few insights that may help us to avoid a few pitfalls and maintain access to safe, legal kratom for years to come.

So without further ado, let’s break down the key points of the review of kratom use in Southeast Asia.

An Important Disclaimer

What follows is a breakdown of the information found in the report only. Kratom Spot does not endorse any of the uses or purposes described in the report. Kratom Spot makes no assertions about the effectiveness of medical uses of kratom. All information below is reflected here solely for educational purposes.

Traditional Uses of Kratom in Southeast Asia

In the US, kratom is used for a variety of purposes, including relaxation, energy, and mood enhancement. The study found traditional use for these purposes, but fascinatingly it also found that kratom has traditionally been used for far more purposes than one might think.

The study also found that traditional kratom use has often been defined by social (and often gender) roles.

In the home and, according to the study, by women, kratom has been used as:

  • A household remedy for diverse ailments, including fever, cough, hypertension, diabetes, pain, and anxiety.
  • A wound poultice.
  • A deworming agent.
  • An appetite suppressant.
  • An aphrodisiac

By contrast, kratom use by men has been as:

  • A morning energy and productivity booster for manual laborers and those working in “blistering heat” or other demanding conditions.
  • A relaxing drink served during social occasions.

What’s interesting is not only the social/gender divide identified, but also the diversity of traditional uses of kratom. Although none of these alternative uses have been backed by clinical research in the West, it does raise questions about potential future applications for kratom internationally.

Social Reception of Kratom Use

The study also examined the social perception of kratom use in Southeast Asia, and found that 

Of note:

  • Kratom use is accepted as “an aid to hard work” that augments income and supports families.
  • Kratom is not stigmatized in the same way as alcohol, tobacco, or other recreational drugs — users of which are labeled “lazy and bad people”; the difference is speculated to be based on kratom’s positive work-boosting role.
  • Kratom users are not believed to engage in bullying, fighting, or otherwise quarreling, a stigma attached to users of alcohol and other substances.
  • Kratom was also used by Muslims in the region as a socially and religiously acceptable substitute for alcohol.
  • Kratom was used in some villages as an offering to a god or spirit, as “a precious gift for fulfilling their desires or vows”.

While they may not identify future possible uses or areas for further research, these cultural uses of kratom are nonetheless a fascinating insight into the diverse roles that kratom can play.

Kratom Side Effects and Withdrawal Strategy

According to the article, kratom dependence is common in regular users. For physically dependent users, withdrawal symptoms are reported to include “sleeping difficulties, decreased appetite, vomiting, muscle spasms, sweating, fever, abdominal pain, diarrhoea [sic], headache, hot flashes, watery eyes and nose, hiccups, shakiness and tremors, body aches and muscle pains, and cramps”.

These symptoms match up with common wisdom, both from kratom withdrawals and from taking too much kratom. More interesting, however, are the methods that Southeast Asian kratom users have developed for coping with kratom withdrawal. These include:

  • chewing and spitting out the fiber of kratom leaves
  • drinking “copious” amount of water
  • working strenuously to distract and draw attention away from the unpleasant effects
  • having a cold shower
  • simply “sleeping it out”

Emerging Trends for Kratom Use in Southeast Asia

Though most of the review focuses on historical trends of kratom use in Southeast Asia, it concludes by noting the emergence of two new trends.

  • According to the study, kratom has been adopted by users of several other drugs, including opiates, as a tool for reducing dependency.
  • Young people have begun mixing kratom with illicit substances to create intoxicating and potentially dangerous cocktails, which the study refers to as “4 x 100”

Neither of these emerging trends is particularly surprising. We’ve heard anecdotal accounts of kratom being used for both cessation of other drugs and for intoxication.

Moreover, mixing kratom with other substances is a known phenomenon, and most reports of kratom being dangerous center on the use of such mixes or of otherwise adulterated kratom.

Final Thoughts

All told, the report on trends for kratom use in Southeast Asia does not offer any revolutionary new insights.

For the most part, it echoes established knowledge and uses that mirror those of US kratom use.

However, the report’s sections on the cultural role and social perceptions of kratom use are fascinating. They offer a picture of kratom as a social and productivity tool, with widespread cultural acceptance for legitimate, productive purposes.

Nonetheless, the emerging trends highlight two very different potentials for the future of kratom use. On the one hand, enlightened use for cessation of illicit drugs and reduction of harm caused by their use; on the other, the abuse of kratom, rendering it an illicit drug itself.

It’s a stark reminder of the necessity to educate and inform potential kratom users, as well as the importance of using only pure, unadulterated kratom.

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