Professor’s Research Shows Therapeutic Potential for Kratom

Scott Hemby

Dr. Scott Hemby, chair of basic pharmaceutical sciences in the Fred Wilson School of Pharmacy at High Point University

HIGH POINT, N.C., June 29, 2018 – Dr. Scott Hemby, chair of basic pharmaceutical sciences in the Fred Wilson School of Pharmacy at High Point University, led and published a new study about kratom, a plant that the scientific community and general public have debated regarding its potential to treat pain without being addictive.

Hemby led a group of researchers from HPU, the University of Florida and the University of South Carolina to test whether two of the main constituents of the plant, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, are addictive or may reduce opiate intake. Their findings were published this week in Addiction Biology, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Their research shows that mitragynine, present at moderate level in the plant, has no potential for addiction and reduces opiate consumption. On the other hand, they showed that 7-hydroxymitragynine (7-HMG), present at very low levels in the plant, has high abuse potential and may increase consumption of other opiates.

Opinions from the general public, federal agencies and scientific communities have been mixed regarding the therapeutic benefit versus detrimental effects of kratom. Hemby says that’s why his team wanted to take an objective approach and conduct the first study of its kind on the plant’s potential addictive properties.

“The rationale for using kratom to treat opiate addiction and dependence in the U.S. is largely anecdotal, as are the claims that the plant is addictive,” says Hemby. “What has been lacking is objective scientific data to directly address both claims. Now, we’ve completed the first controlled scientific study demonstrating evidence for potential therapeutic value.”

The study ran from August 2015 to August 2017. Researchers include Scot McIntosh, laboratory manager in HPU’s School of Pharmacy; Francis Leon and Christopher R. McCurdy from the Department of Medicinal Chemistry in UF’s College of Pharmacy; and Stephen J. Cutler from USC’s College of Pharmacy.

“This is an important study that addresses the addictiveness of kratom,” says Jack E. Henningfield, Ph.D., at Pinney Associates, a health consulting firm. “It shows that the major naturally occurring constituent responsible for the health-related effects of kratom, mitragynine, is of very low abuse potential. A second substance, 7-HMG, which naturally occurs at such low levels in kratom that it might be of minimal health consequence, has higher abuse potential. This has at least two regulatory implications. First, the findings do not support the FDA’s claim that kratom is a narcotic-like opioid. Second, in regulating kratom products, the FDA could set standards to ensure that no kratom product contain levels of 7-HMG exceeding those that are commonly present in kratom leaves and products.”

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