The Malaysian Drug Tree Mitragyna speciosa: Pot of Gold or Scourge?


Ikram Md Said


Traditional & Complementary Medicine Exhibition 2007 (TCME 2007), Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia




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A lot has been said about our MalaysianMitragyna speciosa(known locally as biak-biak) especially on the evils of the tree itself so much so that some local authorities have gone overboard in trying to make it extinct. This is not surprising since a neighbouring country has also banned its existence and the only known and popular use of the tree now is as an opium substitute. There are dozens of compounds, especially alkaloids, that have been isolated fromMitragyna speciosaand so much chemistry has been done on the plant makes one wonder whether anything more can be done to investigate its potential as a source for chemicals in the pharmaceutical industry. This paper documents the contribution of local researchers onMitragyna speciosaand the contribution of UKM especially on the isolation and identi¿cation of the chemical constituents isolated from various parts of the tree. Of the ten species of Mitragyna known throughout Asia and Africa only one,Mitragyna speciosa, is found in Malaysia and its presence is also con¿ned to peninsular Malaysia only.  Its leaves are popular as an opium substitute and this practice is so well known in Thailand that the tree has been banned. In Malaysia the use of biak-biak as a stimulant is more popular with the folks in the northern states bordering Thailand but this practice has since spread to other parts of the country as well. Its abuse has however been known to the Malaysian authorities since the turn of the 20th century and more has been done lately to get rid of the trees now that it has been placed under the Poisons Act.