GEORGE TOWN: Researchers from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) are studying the possibility of using the 'Mitragyna Speciosa' plant, better known as ketum, as a painkiller or to treat drug addiction.
Led by Prof Dr Sharif Mahsuri Mansor, they are also looking into developing a new medication against systemic bacteria infection, which is common among HIV-infected drug users.
Sharif said research carried out on ketum since the 1960s until now have identified 57 compounds from various species of the Mitragyna. Of the total, 37 were of the unique alkaloid types for the ketum and main alkaloid types for the ketum leaf, mitraginina.
He said studies into the mitraginina showed that it differed from morphine but further studies would need to be conducted to look into the aspect of addiction and safety in the long run.
"It is found that ketum is not an opiate. As such, clinical studies are needed to confirm the use of the ketum as a new form of painkiller as well as to treat drug addiction.
"However, our studies since 2007 unearted a new form of anti-bacteria medication (CDR2) which we filed in 2016 to treat systemic bacteria infection such as aspergillosis. The application is awaiting the green light from MyIPO," he said.
Sharif was speaking to the New Straits Times after a public lecture titled ‘Ketum (Mitragyna Speciosa): History of Usage and Latest Findings’, here today.
Sharif said the demand for ketum has seen a rise in Europe and the United States of late as a means of preventing self-inflicted injuries, tackling opiate withdrawal syndrome and as recreational drugs.
This situation, he pointed out, was worrying since the scientific study on ketum is limited.
"There have been several fatal cases involving the use of ketum, but such incidences showed their had used ketum with other substances such as drugs, benzodiazepines, alcohol and other medications.
"There is also a group of ketum users who purposely abuse the usage of the plant as highlighted in the media, and this gives rise to a negative perception on the use of ketum.
"Maybe in the future, USM will collaborate with other research agencies such as the Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority (Risda) to look for the best ketum breed in the country for our research," he added.
In Malaysia, ketum or known as daun biak or biak biak, has traditionally been used to treat cough, diarrhoea, skin infection, pain relief and opium withdrawal syndrome.
In 2003, ketum was placed under the Poisons Act 1952 in the country. Thailand, Myanmar and Australia placed it under their respective Narcotics Act.