For as long as I can remember, my family has always been into “natural” remedies.
Feeling tired? Drink some herbal tea! Got a toothache? Chew on some leaves! Stomach pains? Try some of these supplement pills!
You probably get the drift. Heck, I’m fairly certain most of you have probably been through something similar yourselves. But among all the different herbs and pills I’ve ingested, I have to admit, I’ve never actually tried ketum before.
So What Is Ketum?
Ketum — also known as daun biak, kratom or even Mitragyna Speciosa, if you’re trying to sound all fancy — is a type of tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. Its leaves have been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years in order to treat issues such as back pain, fever and cough.
One of the most common ways of consuming ketum leaves is by boiling them and drinking the ketum-infused water like a tea. Some users also chew the raw leaves because it’s believed to give you energy and keep you awake.
Unfortunately, in recent times, ketum has gained a bit of a reputation. This is because the leaves contain psychoactive chemicals which can lead to addiction.
At low dosages, ketum tends to have a mildly stimulating effect. However, consuming more than 15gm at once can cause extreme sedative effects such as sleepiness, loss of consciousness or even seizures. When taken in excess, users might experiences even more concerning effects such as heart problems — especially if the leaves are combined with other ingredients such as alcohol or tobacco.
The main active ingredient in ketum leaves is called mitragynine, which is controlled under the the Poisons Act 1952. According to Section 30 of this act, it is an offense to import, export, manufacture, sell or possess substances containing this chemical.
If caught, dealers can be punished with a fine of up to RM10,000 and/or four years imprisonment.
Some People Want to Make Ketum Legal Again
Over the past few years, there has been growing support for the idea of legalising the cultivation of ketum for medical purposes. In April 2022, Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Zahidi Zainul Abidin said that the Cabinet had given the “green light” on this matter.
“However, I would like to stress that this is not approval to just consume ketum water, but only for its use in the medical field. The public must not be confused,” he said.
More recently, on 18 May 2022, Kedah’s State Economic Planning Division has officially completed its proposal to seek federal approval to legalise the export of ketum.
“We are just proposing to the federal government. If the federal government approves, then we will proceed,” said Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor.
In a word: Money.
In three words: lots of money.
“There is high demand in Thailand for ketum from Kedah, which can fetch to as high as RM150 per kg as compared to just RM30 per kg in the local market here,” said Sanusi. “Thailand has technology to extract ketum into various health products and ketum planted in Kedah is of high grade as compared to the ketum planted in the neighbouring country.”
“So by legalising its export, ketum can be developed into a lucrative industry in Kedah.”
In other words, Sanusi plans to transform Kedah into a legal hub for ketum, turning it into a cash crop like coffee or tea.
“The state government is ready to appoint any state agency, either Kedah Agro, Perbadanan Kemajuan Pertanian Negeri Kedah (PKNK) and Kumpulan Ladang-Ladang Perbadanan Kedah Sdn Bhd (KLPK) to act as an agent to collect all the ketum crop and become the legal sole exporter. The government can collect duty from the trade,” he said.
It’s Not Just About The Money, Though
While the money is an undeniable benefit, Sanusi’s proposal also has an alternate aim: to combat the illegal export of ketum to Thailand.
“I wish to make it very clear that I am not high on ketum when I am saying this. I have been informed that our law enforcement agencies have been working hard to combat the illegal export of ketum and I have high respect for them,” he said.
“We are spending a lot on resources to combat ketum smuggling (to neighbouring country) but I am asking: what if we legalise the activity and the government benefits from it by imposing export duty?”
He pointed out that under the current laws, exporting ketum is illegal but planting ketum is perfectly fine. This makes it almost impossible for the police to stop the flow of ketum to our neighbouring countries.
“We don’t condone the abuse of ketum by mixing it with banned substances,” he said. “But ketum is planted extensively in Kedah, so it is better if we allow its export. We have ketum trees, we can plant them, but we can’t process them although ketum has medical value.”
Not Everyone Is Happy About This Proposal
As you might expect, Sanusi’s proposal has drawn condemnation from various parties, including the former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He argued that drugs like ketum should not be exported for profit.
“What is the purpose for us to export ketum? Is it just because we want to make a lot of money? Muslims are prohibited from eating pork, so should Muslims export pigs to Thailand? Muslims are prohibited from consuming alcohol, so should Muslims sell alcohol? What more to export them?” he said.
Even Opposition members such as Derga-DAP Tan Kok Yew have compared this proposal to Kedah’s banning of all gambling activities in 2021.
“Pertaining to gambling in Kedah, the YAB (Menteri Besar) has banned it on the grounds that gambling is not good and gambling culture should be curbed among the people. However, for something that is clearly against the law (ketum), Jeneri is calling for it to be legalised. The brilliant thinking of Menteri Besar is amazing,” he said.
He also added that the anti-gambling measures had actually backfired as more illegal gambling sites had appeared to replace the licensed gambling outlets and questioned just how successful this new ketum legalisation proposal would be if it passed.
“What is his assurance that the smuggling of ketum will stop once its export is legalised?” he asked.
Don’t Take Up a Career in Ketum Farming Just Yet
You should probably wait for a bit before rushing out to fulfill all your Stardew Valley ketum farmer dreams.
At the moment, the proposal paper is still being fine tuned. Next week, it will have to go through the State Executive Council. Then, it will be forwarded to the federal government, which will probably take a while to discuss the issue before deciding one way or another.
Even in the best case scenario, it’s going to take a long time before ketum farming or consumption can be considered legal.
But in the meantime, there are still plenty of other “natural” remedies out there that won’t get you arrested. So why don’t you check out those few other options: