You all know about kratom? If you don't, here's the cheat sheet: it's a Southeast Asian herb that provides opiate-like effects on the brain but doesn’t require a prescription from a doctor since you can get it at gas stations, head shops and of course online. Much like salvia divinorum, the “incense” made famous by Miley Cyrus, kratom falls within a legal loophole as it is categorized not as a drug but as a botanical supplement.
According to The New York Times, the FDA’s labeling of kratom as a “drug of concern” but not a controlled substance has begun to have consequences. In addition to reports of seizures and respiratory depression, a woman in Florida pointed to it as the impetus behind her 20-year old son’s suicide. And another woman, who was going through treatment for heroin addiction in the Delray Beach area, claims she innocently started drinking a kratom-based beverage from a local non-alcoholic bar because it eased her detox symptoms; when she relapsed shortly thereafter, she blamed the herb.
So are these valid points or just people pointing the finger?
The problem when it comes to something like this is that we take for granted what we already know—like how much alcohol is safe and what unsafe amounts can do—and assume that if a substance is dangerous, we would hear about it or be warned in some way.
But that doesn’t really happen. What happens is, the pioneer users of the substance become guinea pigs for the rest of us and then word spreads; sometimes only after several people have died. It’s a pretty terrifying “don’t ask, don’t tell” system.
The dangers of kratom may have just begun to show themselves in the US but it’s old news in Thailand, where the leaf grows in the wild. After banning the drug back in 1943, they have also seen a resurgence of abuse in the last few years. Kids have taken to mixing it with cough syrup and Coca Cola, something of an Asian sizzurp, and some say the trend has reached epidemic levels.
Despite the panic in Thailand, things get a little confusing when kratom is still being lobbied as having medicinal qualities. Members of the American Kratom Association feel the drug has gotten a bad rap, and when used in the appropriate amounts, the herb can help manage chronic pain and depression and even wean people off more powerful narcotics.
Pointing the Finger
Regardless of the upsides of kratom (even smoking pot has some health benefits) or how the FDA classifies it, we are ultimately responsible for what we put into our bodies. People with addiction issues need to steer clear fads like kratom if they are serious about keeping their sobriety. Even beverages sold in health food stores may not be 100% safe for people in recovery. While 12-step programs and other support groups aren’t the only way to get clean and sober, they do offer accountability to alcoholics and addicts who may have a hard time making clear decisions about these kinds of things in early recovery.
While I understand that stories about drug relapses certainly make the case that kratom is dangerous, I am in no way cosigning a sob story about a person in treatment who innocently goes to a “non-alcoholic bar” and orders a drink they don't know the ingredients of. That is just about the perfect example of sneaky addict behavior, or at the very least poor decision-making.
Addicts may be a lot of things but naive isn’t one of them.