This Leaf Gets People Off Drugs—and Gets Them Hooked

Kratom gives you a buzz, but at what cost?
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 3, 2016 4:35 PM CST
This Leaf Gets People Off Drugs—And Gets Them Hooked
A man sips from a small cup.   (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

There's a little green leaf that relieves pain and helps people kick heroin, but is also addictive—so should it be legal? That's what lawmakers are trying to decide about kratom, a tree-like plant from Southeast Asia, the New York Times reports. The FDA has banned kratom imports while four states (Wyoming, Vermont, Tennessee, and Indiana) have made it illegal, but more kratom bars are emerging that serve the leaf in drink form, and powdered versions are available online and everywhere from convenience stores to gas stations. "It's a mind-altering substance, so people like me who are addicts and alcoholics, they think just because it's legal, it's fine," says Florida resident Dariya Pankova, who took kratom for heroin withdrawal. "It's a huge epidemic down here, and it’s causing a lot of relapses.”

Long taken as a stimulant in countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia, kratom contains something called mitragynine that seems to cause "opiod-like effects," per Medscape. But kratom also has been linked to respiratory depression, seizures, and possibly suicide; makers of the herbal-liquid "feel good" supplement Vivazen recently removed kratom from its ingredients, Bevnet reports. Yet advocates like the American Kratom Association say the leaf helps wean people off dangerous drugs, and Reason argues that states' arguments against kratom (that it's an opioid or synthetic drug) are incorrect. "It all boils down to the interpretation of the law," says a drug official in Alabama, where one county banned all kratom products last month, ABC 3340 reports. "My district attorney interprets it [as] illegal because it hits the opiate receptor of the brain." (One country may give heroin addicts what they want: heroin.)

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