Elevated levels of a key kratom alkaloid found in commercial kratom products may explain kratom harm reports in the United States, according to established kratom researcher Christopher McCurdy.
McCurdy has spent years evaluating and disproving exaggerated claims about kratom's abuse potential. However, in a new non-scientific article published in late January, McCurdy expressed concern about the plant's safety — particularly in its dried leaf and extract forms.
"Why would there be a history of safe kratom use in Southeast Asia while there are documented reports of harm in the US?" McCurdy asked. "As a pharmacist and professor of medicinal chemistry, I wanted to study why."
For McCurdy, the problem seems to stem from 7-hydroxymitragynine (7-HMG), an alkaloid naturally found in kratom leaves. In a 2018 study, McCurdy and his colleagues concluded that 7-HMG has high abuse potential and that it "may also increase the intake of other opiates."
But while freshly harvested kratom leaves have low 7-HMG levels, kratom powders often contain significantly higher concentrations. In his article, McCurdy theorizes that this is because kratom powder "changes in chemical composition as it dries and ages." McCurdy believes this chemical shift and elevation in 7-HMG levels may explain why commercial kratom products in the US are associated with more harm than traditional preparations.
The solution, McCurdy says, could be to go back to basics. "Until there is a standardized product, preferably one that is prepared in the traditional way, our society must weigh the risks against the putative benefits," he wrote.
Fortunately, McCurdy isn't the first to illuminate the dangers of elevated 7-HMG levels. Many states — such as Arizona, Utah, and Missouri — already restrict the 7-HMG content of kratom products to 2% as per the American Kratom Association (AKA)'s recommendation. Mac Haddow, a member of the AKA, has defended the regulatory measure many times, saying "nature got it right." (10:00)