A sober look at kratom, a psychoactive plant that has many claimed benefits, and has also inspired a moral panic

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/01/23/a-sober-look-at-kratom-a-psyc.html


Been using this stuff for a couple of years. Some types–green leaf–have helped as a pain reliever instead of tylenol or ibuprofen, while other types have been good for a simple mellow relaxation in place of a glass of wine or a beer. I’m not sure about the addictive properties, but I’ll go a while with no use, then use it a day or two, then forget about it for a while, then a couple days. Less frequent than my [already-infrequent] alcohol use. I’m not opposed to pot use, but as an asthmatic that one’s a problem for me.

I get the panic that people have over any kind of herbal substance that some folks abuse. Especially when it’s not regulated, and when it has all kinds of specious health claims. And, of course “Big Pharma” will be worried if it’s something that helps people and means that people will buy less “Big Pharma.” But in the end, there are far fewer problems than with vaping, and certainly fewer problems than with legal substances such as alcohol or cigarettes. Those aren’t reasons, of course, to open the market [Hey! It doesn’t kill as many people as smoking], but the premature panic should be tamped down a bit.


Panic is not called for. But there is a very large amount of self-dosing people are doing, not just on this but on more mainstream products like vitamins and supplements. A lot of this is based on poor information (to be fair, for stuff like kratom there is not a lot of high-quality information). As to whether it works for medical conditions or improves your life, well, it may, but there is also such as thing as the placebo effect. And a lot of people confuse correlation with causation. If I take product X, and I then feel better, was it product X or was I going to feel better after a while anyway? Or was it something else I did/took? This is why we have double-blind studies.


The writeup makes it sound like people panicked the way they always do when the words “new drug” appears somewhere, but then realized that it doesn’t do much of anything at all so they got bored and left. Pretty much a non-story.

The part about herbal medicine folks claiming that it can cure any number of random ailments is absolutely par for the course too. Snake oil peddlers gotta peddle.


I agree with all of this. I’m always suspicious when the government gets involved based on panic, or based on corporate interference. But I agree that further study should happen. Further bans [it’s illegal in my state now] based on panic should not happen.

1 Like

Oh no! People are activating neurotransmitters that aren’t on the approved list!?! Panic! Time to send a bunch of armed thugs to throw them in cages so I don’t have to grapple with the fact that not everyone thinks like I do!


The whole story is sounding a lot like CBD to me. Anyone else?


I’m not exactly disagreeing with the thrust of what you are saying, but people also self-dose coffee, tea and alcohol. I basically self-dose SSRIs since the entire process of setting the dose is a psychiatrist asking me how it’s working and whether I think I need a higher dose.

Obviously in some people self dosing leads to abuse. I think for substances you can feel the effect of (not, e.g., vitamin A) self-dosing might be the best way to achieve an optimal dose for most people.


I’m just wondering why the plant pictured looks like a succulent:when I look it up on google image search, it’s more like a slippery elm weed tree in my back yard.
slippery-elm-bark-powder-bulk 51Oa 9r 3IL


I believe on the DJs on the alt rock station has talked multiple times about using Kratom, but I thought it sounded more like a protein/herbal supplement.

1 Like

If you call it an “herbal supplement” without specific health claims, the FDA shrugs (thank Orrin Hatch from Utah for that, good or ill). The DEA, obviously not. OTOH, the DEA is driven a lot more by politics without bothering Congress (again, good or ill.)


Suckered by succulents.


While a lot of the panic seems overblown, I wonder why the story completely left out people’s struggles with withdrawal. Perhaps it’s just the weird stuff in it, but there’s an entire reddit community dedicated to it and lots of advice online from people who had considered it safe and are now struggling with stopping. Clearly more research is needed before any conclusion can be drawn and there seem to be some great uses, but if anything I think the story kinda soft played in favor of kratom over gov’t agencies. Those agencies almost always being wrong in how they approach drugs doesn’t make kratom safe.


Well I remember him talking about taking Oxicontin in the past, so it makes sense this is sort of an “instead of” thing for him.

I think you are right that research would be good, but I don’t think that habit forming necessarily means unsafe. Unless we all think coffee is unsafe. Because I think over half the population would have a real struggle giving that stuff up.


I agree with you completely. I just thought that the article underplayed the possible risks and user experiences. Perhaps I’m just a worrier, but there seems to be a rush to prove the psychological benefit of certain drugs and the skepticism of the drug doing things like curing cancer isn’t applied. Drugs can cause negative psychological effects in some people and the loose attitude towards self medication is a bit odd considering the widely reported negative results of kratom in some people.

As for the coffee thing… I’m not a fan of that argument. Coffee is coffee and kratom is kratom. Just like how comparing weed to heroin is silly we should evaluate each of these independent of the other. Also, caffeine can be a hell of a drug depending on the person.

Author could have done a lot more with this article, starts promising then falls back on lazily over-citing the other article, which I read when it came out and also found to be outstanding. But this is a valuable piece from the “not judgmental about a new drug” crowd.

I started taking kratom for general wellness. I love opiod pills but have a brain enough to keep me from overindulging. Since taking kratom, which has not gotten me a third as high or lasted as long, I have had zero interest in a single pill. That doesn’t mean it cured an addiction, I never had one, but it fully suppressed my interest in other opiods.

Want to know what else happened? I wanted better mental wellness. I got that. I also lost 30 lbs effortlessly, because kratom also murdered my interest in drinking alcohol. I went from 2-3 strong beers a day (add ABV points per 12 oz beer, 20-27 pts a day) to half that in a month. I now drink at most 2-3 drinks per WEEK. I had no intent to lose weight or cut my non-problematic drinking by well over 80%, but that was like a free gift.

As for tolerance and addiction, if you’re a low level user (under 15g/day) and don’t have wildly addictive tendencies, you’ll be fine on both fronts. I can take days off - it seems quitting kratom is similar to quitting its botanical cousin coffee. Some unease, irritability and maybe headaches for a few days, then you’re totally fine.

OTOH, if you’re addictive, you can take 50+ grams per day and dig yourself into a very deep pit. In kratom’s case, it’s mostly about the user and not the substance. If you seek out reputable sellers, you’ll get clean kratom. If you pay twice as much as the cheap sites, you’ll get verified, organic, clean kratom.


I’m not trying to say that kratom is equivalent to coffee. I’m saying that for all I know it is pretty near equivalent to coffee and some people having trouble quitting doesn’t give me much information about how safe it is for that reason. I think that if it’s hard to quit, though, it would be nice if people knew that in advance. I imagine most people who start drinking coffee know that coffee is hard to quit (even if they don’t care).

Somewhat, except that CBD is not only non-psychoactive*, it actively reduces the psychoactivity of THC. Kratom is an opioid (well, it’s a plant that contains a smallish amount of a mildish opioid). So it’s definitely psychoactive.

* Not exactly non-psychoactive maybe? Causing THC to make you less high and specifically less edgy is a psycho-action, and when it’s consumed without accompanying THC it may also have subtle mood effects as well.

1 Like

I guess people weren’t enjoying it enough to make it worth banning.

1 Like