Have you heard of Kratom?
Why are people across the U.S. chewing on the small, glossy leaves of the Southeast Asian Kratom tree? It’s an ancient plant medicine related to coffee, and it produces a high that’s both euphoric and legal. Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) has long been used in Thailand and Malaysia to relieve pain, settle the stomach and reduce opiate dependence. Now it’s taking off in the West.
According to SageWisdom.org, Kratom leaves can be chewed fresh or dry, powdered, or brewed into a tea. It is not usually smoked, because the “amount of leaf that constitutes a typical dose is too much to be smoked easily.” It’s most commonly sold in powder form in packets, both online and in kava bars—alcohol-free bars where people can consume tea made from the legal, Polynesian kava root— and head shops. An ounce costs between $20 and $30, which is enough Kratom for one very strong dose, or several more mild doses.
The fact that Kratom can mitigate the painful effects of opiate withdrawl is significant, given that heroin use has reached staggering rates in the U.S. A report by the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy estimated a1.5 million chronic heroin users in the US, which doesn’t account for users that use heroin less than 4 days per month.
While it is regularly used to curb opiate addiction by reducing the withdrawal symptoms, Kratom itself can be addictive. One mother in South Florida told the local CBS news the story of her 17-year-old son’s spiral into Kratom addiction after he tried plant at a kava bar with friends. She blames the addiction for her son’s eventual suicide, saying that he was “not the same person,” after trying Kratom.
While it remains popular in underground circles, Kratom has been illegal in Thailand since 1943 (it’s also banned in Malaysia, Burma and Australia). However, as Fox News reported, “Thai officials are considering reversing the 70 year old ban on kratom, due to the plant’s value in weaning addicts off of opiates.”
Despite the potential for addiction, humans have used Kratom as a stimulant and medicine for thousands of years. As Fox News reported, “The plant also enjoys a legendary use for extending the duration of sexual intercourse,” and “it mostly enjoys a long history of safe use.”
One Erowid.com user described their experience with “Premium Thai Kratom” as powerfully relaxing and pleasant:
“I start to feel a very warm sensation in my ankles and calves that is very similar to what I felt when I took hydrocodone after getting my appendix removed. My legs feel tingly and altogether it is a very pleasurable sensation. Walking around or excessive movement seems to reduce these effects substantially, however. Mentally, I am clear headed, and able to concentrate perfectly on the television. Waves of slight euphoria come occasionally, and my mood is elevated. I feel content, and happy to be alive on this planet.”
About the Author
April M. Short is an associate editor at AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @AprilMShort.
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