By now you’ve heard about “Bath Salts” (psychoactive stimulants) and “Spice” (synthetic marijuana) — drugs that were until recently easily found and bought at gas stations and tobacco shops across the nation. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has cracked down on these and other variations of these drugs by labeling the main ingredients as controlled substances. Producers of the drugs keep finding ways to skirt those regulations, but overall it’s much harder to buy them now than it was just a year ago.
But, have you heard of the latest legal drug craze to hit a gas station near you? It’s called Kratom, and unlike bath salts, Spice or any of the synthetic, formerly ”legal” drugs on the DEA hit list, this one is entirely organic, and so far not listed as a controlled substance.
Kratom is another name for the leaves of the mitragyna speciosa tree, which look like large, smooth, oval mint leaves. The trees are indigenous to Southeast Asia and their leaves have been used as a traditional medicine in Thailand and Asian countries for centuries. Kratom is not new to the United States. It’s been floating around the herbal marketplace for decades, sold as a tonic for a variety of uses, but in the last few years it has steadily gained traction as one of the leading legal drugs of choice among the Bath Salt, Sativa, Spice crowd.
The effect of the drug mimics that of opiates, ranging from sedation to pain reduction to intense euphoria. It also carries with it a host of opiate side effects, including nausea, dizziness, constipation, and in worst cases hallucinations and delusions.
Kratom is sold as raw or crushed leaves that can be smoked or steeped for tea, and also in gel caps. Potencies and strains vary, as do prices (generally $15 to $50 per five-gram packet, or $18 to $25 for about 50 capsules). Doses generally range from two to 10 grams.
The DEA lists Kratom as a “Drug and Chemical of Concern.” In several other countries, however, it has been banned outright, including Bhutan, Australia, Finland, Denmark, Poland,Lithuania, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand, where it is reportedly the third most popular drug, behind meth and marijuana.
Until recently it wasn’t even possible to identify Kratom in drug tests, but a new urine test just became available that is able to isolate key compounds in the drug.
Kratom is not without its supporters, who argue that the substance has been used for centuries as a safe means to alleviate pain, boost energy and reduce anxiety. You can visit the Kratom Association to learn much more about the drug and why its supporters fervently defend it.
The drug’s supporters argue, for instance, that there is no credible proof that Kratom is an addictive substance. This is not entirely true. A 2004 study on the tolerance and withdrawal effects of kratom in mice conducted jointly by the Josai International University in Japan and Chulalongkorn University in Thailand concluded that tolerance to 7-hydroxymitragynine (the chemical in Kratom thought to possess addictive properties) developed “as occurs to morphine,” and there was evidence of cross-tolerance to morphine, as well. Withdrawal symptoms also were observed. [Phoenix New Times, August 4, 2011].
And as MSNBC reported earlier this year, Kratom use is making its presence known in more and more hospital emergency rooms.
To be fair, caution is warranted before throwing Kratom into the same basket as Bath Salts and Spice. At the very least, it’s a relatively “clean” drug compared to the others, which are mixtures of synthetic chemicals, many known to be toxic. But whether or not Kratom deserves a DEA-exempt existence among legal substances in the marketplace remains to be seen.
If you have had experience with Kratom, or would simply like to voice your opinion about this or related drugs, please do in the comments section.