The Malaysian government does not agree with the proposal to use ketum – also known as kratom – as a form of treatment for drug addiction or even as painkiller, stating that the effect is similar to that of morphine.

Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya said this was due to the widespread abuse of ketum, resulting in numerous side effects such as causing the skin to turn pale and yellow, and affecting the heart and immunisation system of a person.

“Ketum and morphine are similar, with the same effect. Sure, its effect is energetic, analgesic, can be used for insomnia… it has many uses,” said Dr Hilmi.

Although acknowledging that ketum may have some benefits, he also expressed concern that ketum abuse – which was becoming rampant among the youth – could damage the body’s system.

Worrying rise in ketum abuse among youths

In August, it was reported that a total of 402 Malaysian schools were identified with disciplinary and drug issues and a school in Perlis is putting the blame on ketum.

The headmaster ofone of the 11 schools listed in Perlis claimed that the issue was because of the surrounding ketum farm, resulting in some students getting addicted to ketum juice.

“The main issue faced by the school was its surrounding area, and not the school itself,” said Wan Zaini Wan Saad, the headmaster of SMK Dato Jaafar Hassan.

Although none of the students were caught consuming ketum juice in school, he assured the school would take necessary measures to address the threat.

Northern Malay Peninsular is the most conducive area for the plant with Kedah as the largest supplier of ketum in the country.

Potential in ketum yet to be determined

On the other hand, Professor Dr Sharif Mahsufi Mansor of Universiti Sains Malaysia disclosed that the university was studying the possibility of using ketum as a painkiller or to treat drug addiction, but admitted that there were potential abuses in the use of ketum.

According to Professor Sharif, “The old folks in Malay villages have been using ketum for a very long time, but there is no scientific study to show that ketum is truly safe. We don’t have enough data.” Photo credit: The Malaysian Insight
According to Professor Sharif, “The old folks in Malay villages have been using ketum for a very long time, but there is no scientific study to show that ketum is truly safe. We don’t have enough data.” Photo credit: The Malaysian Insight

“In the United States, ketum is used as a painkiller for chronic pain, anti-depressant, mood enhancer and energy booster. Ketum in the US was sold at prices ranging from USD12 (RM49) to USD180 (RM735), and in forms like capsules and powder, while spotting nice packaging with names like Red Malay, Green Malay, Green Malaysian,” Professor Sharif said.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said that banning the studies on ketum would be of great disadvantage to the country.

"Don't ban on the intake and research because if ketum is banned, we will suffer losses as other countries do not have this high-value plant,” he said during a press conference at the Parliament.

"I'm worried if these countries start their own research, they will get their studies patented. This is our resources. It's very difficult for other countries to find ketum leaves," he said, referring to Thailand and the US who are among the biggest importers of ketum leaves from Malaysia.

Kratom capsules being sold in the United States. Photo credit: AP/New York Post
Kratom capsules being sold in the United States. Photo credit: AP/New York Post

“It takes a long time to study drugs. They go through many development phases. Such studies are usually done by big pharmaceutical firms or multinationals. We need long-term studies to determine if ketum is safe, and clinical tests to verify that ketum can be used as a new painkiller and to help treat drug addiction,” added Professor Sharif.

Regulations in other countries

Ketum has been controlled under the Poison Act since 2003. In Thailand, Myanmar and Australia, it is regulated under the Narcotics Acts of the respective countries.

In the US, ketum is currently legal in most states but has been banned in five. While there are several deaths allegedly related to direct ketum use, investigations are still ongoing. Currently, an estimated USD100 million (RM408.4 million) of products made from the plant’s extracts are sold annually in the US.

Meanwhile, Dr Hilmi said that the Malaysian Ministry of Health is now seeking a total ban on the sale, possession, use and planting of ketum.

"The ministry has proposed to review the Poisons Act 1952 used to monitor activities related to ketum, by adding a restriction to the commercial planting of the ketum plant, next year. It is currently in the final stage and we expect to table it in Parliament in the next sitting.

"Leeway will however be given to researchers to plant the ketum, but they must first obtain approval directly from the ministry,” said Dr Hilmi. MIMS

Read more:
US ban on kratom postponed amidst research for new painkillers
Ketum: Medicinal herb or addictive drug?
Old and addicted: Uncovering the hidden substance abuse epidemic in elderly

Sources:
http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/deputy-minister-no-to-ketum-as-painkiller-treatment-for-drug-addiction#wFyZoCCzSyiJUj63.97
https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/27678/
https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2017/12/315473/no-plan-use-ketum-painkiller-or-methadone-treat-drug-addiction#cxrecs_s
https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2017/08/263060/studies-benefits-ketum-leaves-should-not-be-banned-says-minister
https://nypost.com/2017/11/11/supplement-to-cure-heroin-addiction-could-be-addicting-too/
https://www.nbcchicago.com/investigations/Kratom-Its-Legal-But-Could-it-Be-Deadly-462421533.html