I’ve been researching traditional and contemporary kratom use in Southeast Asia. Social attitudes toward the plant there are not very remarkable. They are about as remarkable as social attitudes in the West toward coffee, tea, or household medicine cabinet staples like aspirin, Benadryl, or Pepto Bismol. Even in regions of Malaysia and Thailand, where kratom is illegal, its use is not viewed as a drug habit like the abuse of alcohol or opiates, and kratom users are not regarded as drug addicts.
A May 2017 article from the journal Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical & Experimental states:
Kratom leaves are used widely by women in villages as a house-hold remedy for common ailments such as fever, cough, hypertension, diabetes, pain, and anxiety. It is also applied as a wound poultice, and believed to be a deworming agent and appetite suppressor…
…Men, on the other hand, consume kratom in the morning to improve work productivity and to combat fatigue.
The article goes on to point out that while alcoholics may face a social stigma in regions of Southeast Asia, kratom users do not:
Kratom users are viewed as hard working people, as compared to users of cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco, who are labelled as lazy and bad people
In conclusion, Singh et al editorialize (note the term “ketum” and “kratom” are used interchangeably in this article):
The recent criminalisation of ketum use has undermined what has been held as a relatively harmless practice in these societies without proper investigation. The fact that the findings about the medicinal value of ketum and its relative harmlessness, despite prolonged use, emerge from studies based on surveys and self‐reports cannot in itself be a basis for legal sanctions against its use. Instead, these claims should be investigated with scientific rigour, lest we risk losing the proverbial baby with the bath water.
The Transnational Insitute, an international research institute, came to the same conclusion in this May 2011 article called “Kratom in Thailand: Decriminalisation and Community Control?”:
In southern Thailand, traditional kratom use is not perceived as ‘drug use’ and does not lead to stigmatisation or discrimination of users. Kratom is generally part of a way of life in the south, closely embedded in traditions and customs such as local ceremonies, traditional cultural performances and teashops, as well as in agricultural and manual labor in the context of rubber plantations and seafaring. People from the southern provinces, especially in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces, are predominantly Muslim and are prohibited from drinking alcohol based on the dictates of Islamic beliefs. With strict controls on alcohol, kratom is an alternative substitute, not specifically prohibited by the clergy, but regulated by the state.
The FDA, for whatever reason, is trying to get ahead of casual attitudes toward kratom developing in the United States. In 1943 the Thai government was very clear as to why kratom was being outlawed: competition with then-legal opium tax revenue (closely resembling the accusation that the FDA is protecting pharmaceutical industry profits). Again from TNI:
In the words of Police Major General Pin Amornwisaisoradej, a member of the House of Representatives from Lampang in a special meeting on 7 January 1943: “Taxes for opium are high while kratom is currently not being taxed. With the increase of those taxes, people are starting to use kratom instead and this has had a visible impact on our government’s income.”