What’s kratom, and why is it in trouble?

Kratom has become popular among users who say it boosts their mood and reduces pain. But it’s not always safe.

Has someone at your yoga and meditation workshop offered you kratom tea, leaving you wondering what the heck it is?

Kratom leaves

Kratom is an herbal supplement made from the dried leaves of a tree in the coffee family and imported from Southeast Asia. When ingested or smoked, it can cause effects similar to opioids and stimulants.

Some people who enjoy it say they feel relaxed or more social. Others say it helps them manage chronic pain or recover from addiction.

It’s become popular in recent years:

  • Over 2m Americans use kratom annually, per Bloomberg
  • In 2021, it was a $1.3B industry

It can be purchased at smoke shops, online, or at kratom bars, where customers ditch alcohol for kratom teas and cocktails.

But before you get any business ideas…

… know that it can be dangerous in high doses or when mixed with other substances. Negative side effects can include seizures and, though rare, death.

  • In May, a kratom vendor who sold a 39-year-old woman concentrated kratom extract was ordered to pay $4.6m+ to her family after she died of acute kratom intoxication, per NPR.

Lawyers representing families in other wrongful death lawsuits say vendors don’t warn customers of potential harm or instruct them on how to use kratom.

Why not?

Though a handful of states have banned it and the FDA warns against taking it, it isn’t regulated.

And despite its potential benefits, there hasn’t been enough research on kratom to understand how to harness those benefits without the harm.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse supports such research, while the American Kratom Association advocates for kratom to be regulated so that it can be consumed safely and legally.

But if it’s anything like cannabis and mushrooms, kratom may have a long road — and a lot of red tape — ahead.

BTW: Kratom aside, there is a push for sober bars, offering socializing without the booze. Alternatives include mocktails; low- and no-ABV beer, wine, and spirits; and drinks made with adaptogenics and nootropics.

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