Kratom is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a gelatin capsule. Although I’ve purchased it, eaten it, and interviewed a kratom importer and an addiction specialist about it, I still don’t know how to pronounce it.
Then there’s the question of what kratom actually does. It can speed you up or wind you down, depending on the dose and strain. It can be a gateway drug to opioids or a way to wean yourself off them. In short, kratom’s effects are just about as varied as its users themselves. The one thing we’re pretty sure of is that it won’t make you eat your neighbor’s face — also, that kratom use is supposedly “booming,” thanks in part to its mostly legal status. With that in mind, let’s learn more about the latest way to get high on something you can order from the internet.
So, what is kratom?
“Kratom is a plant from Southeast Asia that has become increasingly popular in the West over the past 10 years,” says Andrew, a kratom user and importer for The Kratom Connection. “It’s a member of the coffee family and is well known for both its painkilling properties and its energizing properties.” The leaves come in red, white, and green strains, he says — red ones have sedative and painkilling properties, white are more energizing, and green strains are somewhere in between.
“Although kratom is not an opiate, it works on the same receptors as opioids,” says Clare Waismann, an addiction specialist at the Waismann Method. In Thailand, where the psychoactive herb is illegal, users most often chew its leaves raw — in the US, where it’s banned in six states, users take the ground-up leaf in pill, capsule, or powder form, often boiling the latter into a tea. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, sweating, itching, psychotic episodes, liver damage, and, in some rare cases, death. Sounds like a fun Friday night! It’s also “very addictive,” Waismann adds. Unless you’re using it to wash yourself, presumably — kratom is also an ingredient in some hippie soaps.
Why do people use kratom?
I don’t know, maybe because it’s a cheap, legal high that won’t show up on a drug test, and because altering your consciousness is fun? Or because it’s a cheaper way to treat chronic pain, which has been helping to fuel the painkiller crisis you can’t stop hearing about. “It’s an inexpensive alternative to painkilling prescriptions and for many people, it’s been a lifesaver,” according to Andrew, who, it should be noted, …….