For kratom advocates, Christopher R. McCurdy needs no introduction. He’s a medical chemist whose research focuses on the synthesis and development of drugs to treat pain and drug abuse. So it was only logical for the doctor to begin studying kratom compounds. After all, the plant shows magnificent potential for both. McCurdy’s team recently put out the results from one of their studies, suggesting kratom tea works as a therapeutic option for opioid dependency. And there are other groups of scientists that have shown the benefits of using kratom to treat pain. Now, the only thing left is for scientists and doctors to work together to make kratom-based medication a reality. But that takes time, patience, dedication, and lots of ingenuity. Luckily for the kratom community, Dr. McCurdy has all of those in spades.
And he’s been a phenomenal ally for the kratom advocacy movement. He and other medical researchers were some of the loudest voices pleading with the government to back down from scheduling the plant back in 2016. Registering kratom as a narcotic would have made it more difficult to proceed with kratom research for his team. If the DEA had scheduled the plant, an unnecessary barrier would have materialized for researchers. At that point, they would need a license from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Department of Public Health (DPH) to gain access or acquire kratom. But without its scheduling, the team can buy kratom from any vendor or have it imported directly from Indonesia.
McCurdy Publishes an Article in “The Conversation”
Recently, on January 22nd, 2021, The Conversation published an article that Christopher McCurdy had authored. The piece was called “Kratom: What Science Is Discovering About the Risks and Benefits of a Controversial Drug.” In the composition, McCurdy states outright that kratom has been linked to plenty of poison control center calls and even death. But instead of pointing out the data that connects deaths and overdoses to kratom are all flawed, Dr. McCurdy goes in a different direction. He suggests that kratom poisoning cases and deaths in the US are possibly accurate. And those instances might result from the differing kratom products available here in the United States.
He states the chemical composition of the plant changes as it dries and ages, which is scientifically proven. Most of the 7-hydroxymitragynine compound results from the oxidation of mitragynine during the fermentation and drying process. And those techniques are used to prepare the kratom product for exportation.
However, fresh kratom leaves that are harvested and prepared into traditional kratom tea produces no detectable levels of the 7-hydroxymitragynine molecule. By contrast, in American kratom products, the 7-hydroxymitragynine accounts for roughly 2% of the total alkaloid content. So there are differences between the two kratom materials. And McCurdy goes on to warn the reader that purified 7-hydroxymitragynine is an opioid with demonstratable abuse potential. Yet, he states that information while knowing none of the kratom compounds are opioids. But with such small amounts of 7-hydroxymitragynine present in kratom, is there a reason for concern?
Looking At McCurdy’s Argument Through a Microscope
The amount of 7-hydroxymitragynine in powdered kratom is insignificant. By weight, the alkaloid content only accounts for 0.02% of the entire product. And that’s considered a high level. To put that in perspective, the THC levels in industrial hemp are roughly around 0.3%. So that’s approximately 15 times the amount of THC in full-spectrum CBD oil sold in health food stores as any 7-hydroxymitragynine that exists in kratom powder. And CBD oil won’t get you high. So I’m not buying the argument.
Then McCurdy states the unreliable measurements of alkaloids in kratom products sold in the US create uncertainty and complications for kratom consumers. The market essentially breaks down into a “buyer beware” industry. And his outlook is that unless there is a standardized product, “preferably one that is prepared in the traditional way,” then the nation should weigh the risk of kratom consumption against any proposed benefits.
But it’s impossible to prepare traditional kratom products in the States. The kratom industry would need access to fresh local leaves grown in the US. Unfortunately, we don’t have that option. The only state that would support a legitimate terrain for growing kratom is Hawaii. Other than that, the alkaloid compositions of plants grown in the other states are abysmal.
So it feels like Dr. McCurdy has slowly begun changing his stance on legalized kratom in the US. And the change has occurred as the pharmaceutical industry gets closer to reaping the plant’s full potential. And that’s right around the corner.
Pharmaceutical Companies Race to Bring a Kratom Pill to the Market
The Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI) Translational Drug Development Core is led by McCurdy’s faculty at the University of Florida (UF) College of Pharmacy. And Mr. McCurdy serves as its director. The team works to provide services and expertise in bioanalytical drug metabolism and preclinical pharmacokinetics to create breakthrough medical discoveries in the world of medicine. The team at UF has been testing and analyzing the chemical compounds in kratom. And McCurdy has become one of the world’s leading kratom experts. His team has pushed the boundaries and brought kratom research to the forefront of discussion, looking for ways to create pharmaceutical components from the plant. However, other pharmaceutical companies look to do the same.
One biotech company, ATAI Life Sciences, has already begun the process of isolating and synthesizing the mitragynine molecule. And that pharmaceutical company plans to market its mitragynine pill as soon as it passes its clinical trials. The company’s flagship product, KUR-101, was created to remedy pain and symptoms associated with opiate withdrawal. And the biotech company hired scientists from Columbia University to push its development forward. The scientific community expects to see the Clinical Trial Phase 1 results released in the second half of 2021. And the data from Phase 2 is estimated to come out at the beginning of 2023. Depending on that evidence, the medication would then move to Phase 3. And once that’s accomplished, the drug receives the coveted FDA approval. Then doctors can prescribe kratom-derived prescription pills to their patients.
Kratom Advocacy: Here Today and Gone Tomorrow
The kratom industry must realize that some of its most valuable allies are temporary. Shortly, those same proponents of kratom legalization will begin demanding the plant become criminalized in the future. And it’s easy to understand the reasoning. The kratom advocacy group consists of lots of different components.
Some are kratom consumers looking to maintain a legal channel to purchase and possess kratom legally. Others are kratom vendors seeking to keep kratom legal for its profitability. There are elected representatives that back kratom legality, too. They want their constituents to have access to whatever type of botanical substances they choose to use for their health. But the kratom advocates in the medical field aspire for something completely different. They want legal access to the plant to create synthetic compounds to create prescription pain pills. They also want to corner the market and treat the ballooning opioid epidemic that’s destroying our great nation. So to them, kratom has the potential to make them extremely rich.
And its current legal status provides them with another advantage. The anecdotal evidence of kratom users works as ongoing case studies that would otherwise become limited in a regulated atmosphere. With kratom legal, these researchers have access to several kratom communities that openly tout their experiences for the world. A few printed research papers point out the testimonials from regular kratom consumers as sources of anecdotal evidence they used for investigative purposes. However, when those testimonials are no longer necessary, the other proverbial foot shall drop.