Thailand Legalizes Kratom For Medicinal Use

“It makes working much easier and more enjoyable, I chew them all day”

Its 6:30 am and Tung, a laborer from Myanmar, heads toward the local hardware store before heading to work. He is not there to pick up tools or equipment, but instead goes right towards the front counter. The Thai clerk, without being spoken to, asks ‘gee bai’ or ‘how many?’ Tung asks for 10 leaves and hands over his 150 baht (about 5 USD). He then heads to work, ready for a 10-12 hour work day mixing concrete by hand to build bungalows for the Thai island’s growing tourist populations. The Kratom leaves he just purchased help give him energy to do his job, and also have the benefit of warding off hunger so he can continue to work. Throughout the day he will chew the leaves,

“It makes working much easier and more enjoyable, I chew them all day”

he says.


Kratom use in Thailand

Thailand has a long history with Kratom, which is very common in the humid Southern regions. It is used by a wide variety of people, from the poor laborers to more affluent senior citizens. Even at government meetings in the rural south you can observe officials sharing the leaves between each other like cigarettes. The plant is thought to have been used for thousands of years throughout the region, and in Thailand is considered by the people to be ‘Sapboon Thai’ or ‘Thai Herbal Medicine.’ The plant has a variety of uses, both recreational and medicinal. However, forty years ago it, along with cannabis, was made illegal with the passing of the Narcotics Act of 1979.

Since then, Kratom has still been widely used, although somewhat cautiously. The leaves of the plant are not advertised for sale, however any stores in the South which serve the working class usually sell it behind the counter if you ask. It is not uncommon to go to the hardware store and see a construction supervisor buying a large stack of leaves for all of their staff, much like Americans would do with coffee. Nor is it uncommon to find the tree growing around people’s homes.


Legality of Kratom in Thailand

Although illegal, it is quite rare to hear about the police arresting or fining anybody for possession of the leaves. When people are arrested it is usually thought of as a way to punish them, especially in the case of migrant workers, when they have committed no real crimes. However, that practice looks like it will be coming to an end. Since Christmas Day 2018 when the parliament voted unanimously to allow for the cultivation, possession, sale, and use of both Kratom and Cannabis for permitted individuals and companies.


A New Direction for Kratom in Thailand

The change in policy in Thailand has been welcomed by the people, and called a “New Years Gift” by top government officials. It remains to be seen how this change will affect the local populations, but conversations on Facebook by Thai citizens have been largely positive and optimistic. Many people have posted about the ease of access for sick or drug addicted family members. Currently the plant is harder to get in central or northern areas, such as Bangkok, than methamphetamine pills called ‘Ya Baa’ or ‘Crazy Pill.’ SE Asia has traditionally had some of the strictest drug laws and harshest punishments for possession or sale of drugs in the world. Now that Thailand has taken the first step towards viewing these plants in the context of their medicinal benefits and relative safety for adult use it is thought that neighboring countries will follow suit. This decision by the Thai government is applauded by many users and their family members, and is the first step towards viewing the situation rationally rather than adhering to the fear mongering and propaganda of the past.

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