Mitragyna speciosa, aka “kratom,” is a tropical plant in the coffee family, native to Southeast Asia, historically used in Thailand for its medicinal qualities. Thailand banned kratom in 1943 due to abuse and now North Carolina, among other states, is seeking to set limits on the drug too.
What’s the concern about kratom? According to a state senator in North Carolina, the state medical examiner found the drug in 24 people while investigating their deaths. Additionally, the FDA warns that “consumption of kratom can lead to a number of health impacts, including respiratory depression, nervousness, agitation, aggression, sleeplessness, hallucinations, delusions, tremors . . . “ and more.
Technically, kratom is categorized as a “botanic dietary supplement.” Thus, the FDA cannot intervene unless kratom is shown to be unsafe or its producers claim that it treats a medical condition. For decades (if not longer), workers in Thailand used kratom to ward off exhaustion, enhance their mood, and to alleviate pain. Modern proponents of kratom say it’s a natural painkiller and that it helps people avoid or wean off opiates and narcotics. In fact, some business in North Carolina will even serve you kratom tea (described as “green brown sludge . . . ladled from some South Pacific swamp”). Generally, kratom can be found in convenience stores and, of course, online. However, some states (e.g. Indiana, Tennesssee, Vermont, and Wyoming) have already banned kratom entirely.
Overall, there’s not a consensus on the health effects of the plant. Some say it’s like trading one addiction for another. It’s a very gray, murky area. If Kratom is being used, be wary.