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In the USA, the FDA recently placed a two-year “emergency ban” on the Asian herbal drug kratom, which other nations are encouraging as an alternative to methamphetamines and a tool for helping people beat opiate withdrawal.

Kratom (also known by its botanical name Mitragyna speciosa and as ketum) is an evergreen tropical tree native to Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. Although the plant has a great deal of potential as an herbal medicine, it has not been subjected to scientific scrutiny, and hundreds of users just in the USA have suffered side effects after taking it. The United Nations classifies kratom and other controversial drugs such as khat and Salvia divinorum, along with synthetic drugs like ketamine, as "new psychoactive substances," not yet illegal in the US, the Commonwealth, or Europe, but meriting government attention. The US Drug Enforcement Agency announced a plan to ban kratom as of September 30, 2016, but widespread protest prevented its being listed as a Schedule I drug.

Kratom is already illegal in Thailand, where 13,000 people have been jailed for kratom-related crimes. In the United States, the federal government has not made kratom illegal, although the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, and Wisconsin have. In the states where it is legal, teenagers often use the herb to experiment without the possibility of getting arrested. There are drug tests that can detect the breakdown products of kratom, although the home drug testing kits that cover kratom usually cost around $125.

How Do You Get Kratom?

Nearly all Americans who use kratom buy the herb online. It comes as powdered dry leaf. It is sold in bulk for making tea, or in capsules to be taken by mouth. Home growers outside of the tropics usually don't have much luck growing the herb. Kratom seeds go bad very quickly. It's impossible to grow kratom plants from old seed. 

What Is Kratom Used For?

 

It has been used since at least the nineteenth century as a folk remedy for diarrhea, fatigue, and chronic pain, and as a gentler substitute for opium.

 

Nineteenth century herbalists and doctors recommended kratom as a treatment for getting off opium, and an increasing number of people around the world are using it for treating chronic pain. British and Dutch plantation owners encouraged their workers to use kratom so they could bear more physical pain and do more work. In the twenty-first century,it is often used by people who got hooked on Oxycontin or other opioid pain relievers who are trying to cut back or save money without turning to heroin. It is also sometimes used by people who are trying to come off methamphetamines on their own.

Is Kratom Safe?

 

There is no doubt that kratom is a lot safer than heroin or crystal meth. The challenge in using kratom effectively is that low doses and high doses have opposite effects.

 

In low doses, one to five grams (up to about the equivalent of ten leaves or a heaping teaspoon of the powdered drug) kratom is a "euphoriant." Users feel good. They want to mix and mingle with people. They have more energy. In high doses, five to fifteen grams (up to about the equivalent of 30 leaves a heaping tablespoon of the powdered drug) kratom is sedative. Users become low-energy, although they are usually stoned. The effects of the herb come on quickly, in just a few minutes, and last six to eight hours, although the effects of very high doses may last longer than that.

In Asian countries where kratom is legal, there are no reports of side effects or fatalities. However, in these countries, very few users of kratom take prescription drugs, and the herb is available fresh as unadulterated leaf. Laborers who use the leaf for energy usually take only a small dose, the equivalent of two or three leaves or about a gram of the herb.

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