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Watching for Kratom

If you haven’t heard of Kratom, it’s probably because you aren’t from Southeast Asia. The herb grows wild (it’s actually the leaves of a tree) in Indonesia, Thailand and other parts of tropical Asia. The DEA says the drug is gaining in popularity and is being sold legally in the Chicago area. Although Kratom has effects similar to both an opioid (pain killing) and a stimulant, the effects are not considered as dramatic. The drug has no legal medical use in the United States.

The drug is being sold as an herbal remedy, but on the Internet and among young people, it is brewed into a tea with the purpose of getting high. Kratom is illegal in Indonesia because of overuse there.

It’s hard to say whether Kratom should best be described as a home remedy or a substance of abuse. Like many other things, it depends on how much is used and how often. Certainly, we don’t want young people to experiment with it just because they can do so without getting arrested.

According to CBS Chicago, the DEA is watching closely. “This is as dangerous as it comes. It can cause heart rate going up sweating going up blood pressure going up and if you have other medical conditions, it could actually be life threatening,” said Jack Riley, an agent with the local DEA office.

So what does it look like? Not much, just ground up, dried green leaves. It’s sold in “head shops” – or the more ubiquitous smoke shops. But it’s also available on the Internet and Florida seems to be a major supplier. For those in the Indonesian or Thailand ex-pat community, Kratom may be just another product that reminds them of home. They may have used it before coming to the US. And they probably represent the first tier of customers for the herb. But as with many other things that go viral through word of mouth on the Internet, it looks like Kratom is spreading far outside the Southeast Asian community.


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