The Kratom Diaries Part 1: Tealapse

Kava Bars serve kratom, which may cause relapse.

What Is Kratom?

Kratom has been making headlines regularly in recent months, shirked by many advocates of sobriety as merely another potentially deadly street drug, nothing more than an added contribution to the ultimate downfall of society. So far, the substance has been officially banned in Thailand, Australia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and in the United States kratom is so far prohibited in Indiana and Tennessee. Kratom naturally produces a psychoactive high – a tropical evergreen tree in the same family as coffee, the leaves are frequently used for their medicinal properties, said to both uplift mood and treat health problems. Sounds kind of like… oh, I don’t know. Marijuana. The fight to legalize cannabis has been raging for years, and little progress has thus far been made (blaze it, Colorado and Washington). It only seems likely that right wing conservatives will throw their arms up in uptight exasperation at the news of a newly emerging drug-plant, and devote their time to banning the trendy devil’s spawn while convincing everyone that it will literally kill you the first time you try it. Before kratom gains any more popularity and the two sides divide even farther, I’ve decided to take it upon myself to provide some accurate information on the trending drug. I’ll be spending a month fully submerged in kratom culture, carefully examining both sides of the situation, eventually formulating a personal opinion based on facts and the personal experiences of those that live and love the medicinal tea.

It is important first to differentiate between kratom and kava – seeing as kratom is typically sold in kava bars thus the two are frequently confused. Kava is a crop of the western Pacific, made from the roots of a plant related to pepper. The roots are used to produce a drink with sedative and anesthetic qualities, used to relax the user and diminish short-term social anxiety without disrupting mental clarity. There have been health risks linked to kava use, predominantly in the area of liver damage and failure. Effects on the liver are responsible for the distribution of kava being heavily regulated in a number of countries. The drink affects the brain and other parts of the central nervous system, proving effective in relaxing the user although it is not markedly safe for human consumption (though many swear by its medicinal value).

Kratom, on the other hand, has a more stimulating effect depending on the amount consumed. Many kava bars sell kratom, though the two herbs are essentially unrelated. While the safety and usage of kava has not been medically approved, our focus will remain on kratom – seeing as the lawsuits and regulatory ordinances of recent times revolve around this herb alone. All that I know so far about kratom thus far is what I have been able to collect from online articles and publications – I am no expert, but plan to be at least somewhat of a connoisseur by the end of this month. I feel that kratom will play an important part in the recovery community in years to come as a newly emerging and potentially dangerous trend amongst former drug addicts and alcoholics.

Week 1: Tealapse

Because I currently live in a town somewhat dominated by addiction recovery, the issue of kratom has been one of exceeding interest. Being in recovery myself, I have been a part of numerous uneducated and biased conversations discussing whether or not using kratom should be officially considered a relapse. Most of the people I have spoken to agree – using kratom is definitely reason enough to ‘give up the fight and pick up a white’. I’m starting off slow this week… interviewing several self-proclaimed kratom addicts and those who sincerely believe that the herbal tea is an injurious drug that should undeniably be carefully regulated – as well as the kratom enthusiasts that still indulge despite their sober lifestyles… if something like that exists.

I was able to initiate the week with a heartfelt conversation between myself and someone close to me who believes that kratom is majorly responsible for her relapse. She began to drink kratom after hearing of its opiate-like qualities, leading me to believe she was in “relapse mode” long before she picked up the herbal concoction. She claims she drank it in larger and larger amounts, eventually switching over to heroin once she realized the tea alone was not going to produce the effects she craved. While she was actively seeking a distinct change in mood and alteration in sentiment, the kratom surely triggered something in her that made obtaining and using heroin more of a reality than an urge.

Interestingly enough, however, the drug has been used for years as a natural way to assist addicts in weaning off of potentially lethal opiates. At this point, it seems as if intention makes all the difference. After discussing her specific experience with her, I can only draw the conclusion that she had mentally relapsed long before picking up the kratom. This is only one person’s story, and I am going to interview all sides before the week is through. If you or someone you know has had an experience – negative or positive – with kratom and relapse, please comment below. Your feedback is important!

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