Historical Background: Canada’s Stance on Herbal Medicine

The past few years have witnessed growing concerns about the potential adverse effects of conventional drugs. These fears, coupled with the often-inhibitive costs of conventional medications, have seen many people gravitate towards alternative herbs like kratom.  

Kratom is a medicinal plant that continues to receive widespread media coverage for its therapeutic properties. Multiple studies claim the plant may help to alleviate various ailments.  

One way to understand kratom’s medicinal benefits is to learn more about its history and legality. Read below as we retrace the steps to where this herb came from and how it achieved its current legal status. 

What Is Herbal Health? 

One of the frequently asked questions about kratom relates to its legal status. But is kratom legal in Canada?  

The short answer is yes; kratom is legal in Canada. We’ll expound on that later on. First, it’s important to familiarize ourselves with this herb before delving into its legal status.  

Kratom is a tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family that grows natively in Southeast Asia. The herb is botanically known as Mitragyna speciosa.  

Kratom thrives indigenously in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The tree is also reasonably widespread in Myanmar and Papua New Guin 

Mitragyna speciosa has been in existence from time immemorial. In the herb’s native range, locals have chewed its leaves or consumed its extracts for centuries. That makes it exceedingly difficult to determine the first human interactions with the plant.  

However, the first official mention of kratom in Western literature was by Dutch botanist Pieter Willem Korthals. Korthals worked for the East India Company and often observed locals chewing an herb that turned out to be kratom.  

It’s worth noting that kratom goes by numerous street names in Southeast Asia, including biak, gaiam, kakuam, katawn,  ketung, madat, etc. It’s believed that the word “kratom” is a corruption of some of the herb’s street names.  

What Was Kratom Used For? 

Korthals observed that many locals chewed kratom to get relief from chronic pain due to the hard labor they were often subjected to. Some also drank kratom tea for improved relaxation and sleep. There was yet another category that chewed kratom to get relief from fatigue, stimulate their appetite, and treat erectile dysfunction (ED).  

As scientific research would prove more than a century later, it turns out these medicinal claims were well-founded.  

Studies now suggest that kratom may alleviate pain by impacting certain opioid receptors in the brain. The herb also contains powerful anti-inflammatory properties due to its inhibitory effects on inflammatory messenger molecules, such as cytokines.  

Additional research indicates kratom may treat anxiety and depression. That’s due to its ability to enhance the brain’s sensitivity to certain ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters.  

Kratom’s stimulating properties also make it a potential remedy against fatigue. The herb shares the same botanical relationship with coffee, which speaks volumes about its energizing abilities. 

Introduction to the Western World 

European researchers began to explore kratom around the 1800s and early 1900s.  

In 1907, British botanist Leonard Wray became the first to investigate kratom in Europe. He sent samples of the herb for research to a colleague at the University of Edinburgh.  

By 1921, researchers had uncovered kratom’s psychoactive properties. In 1930, English botanist Isaac Henry Burkill proved the herb could help relieve diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues.  

However, kratom did not get to the Americas immediately due to colonization. It wasn’t until after the mid-20th century that Southeast Asian immigrants introduced the herb to North America. According to the American Kratom Association, kratom first hit the United States in the 1970s. It gradually became a craze due to its perceived health benefits.   

History of Legalization 

Despite its many science-backed therapeutic properties, kratom remains banned or regulated in many countries.  

Thailand became the first country to nationally ban kratom in 1943. This was quite ironic, considering most kratom strains are indigenous to the country. Fortunately, Thailand’s operationalization of the updated Narcotics Act (No.8) B.E. 2564 (2021) removed kratom from the country’s list of banned substances. This huge milestone legalized the growing, sale, and distribution of kratom in the country for the first time since World War II.  

Malaysia, another Southeast country within kratom’s native range, also banned its production and possession in 1952. But unlike Thailand, the herb still appears in the country’s list of banned substances as defined by its Poisons Act.  

Kratom remains banned in several other countries, including Argentina, Bulgaria, Australia, and China (Hong Kong). Some countries, like Denmark, prohibit kratom except for medical applications.  

Fortunately, kratom is legal in North America.  

According to Health Canada and The Canadian Food Inspection System (CFIS) – the two bodies responsible for regulating the health and safety of herbal extracts – kratom is legal, provided vendors do not offer it as a consumable.  

In other words, kratom sellers in the country can only avail the herb in other forms besides edibles. Alternative formulations include vape e-liquids, aromatherapy products, and topicals.  

However, Canada’s restriction on kratom preparation applies only to vendors. Consumers don’t need to worry about which kratom formulation to administer as long as they can vouch for the product’s safety.  

Wrap Up 

The journey towards mainstreaming kratom has been long and arduous. But with emerging studies heaping praises on the herb for its many health benefits, it may only be a matter of time before it becomes legal worldwide. 

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