The Southeast Asian herb kratom, which I briefly discussed in a column several months ago, is back in the news, as a misguided Louisiana state senator named Almond Gaston Crowe is trying to ban the sale of this ancient psychoactive plant, which may have valuable medical properties.
According to Eyewitness News, Senator Crowe said “Kratom is just as harmful as other over-the-counter herbs such mojo, spice marijuana, and bath salts.” However, there is little, if any, scientific evidence to back Senator Crowe’s statement up, as these products that he groups together are all very different from one another, and they are relatively unstudied. “Mojo” is a brand of kratom, “spice marijuana” refers to herbs sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids, and “bath salts” are chemical analogs of amphetamines, not herbs.
Unlike the recently synthesized chemical analogs found in “bath salts” and “spice,” kratom has a long history of traditional use in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. It is a fascinating psychoactive herb composed of leaves that are harvested from a tree that is indigenous to Thailand, technically known as “Mitragyna speciosa Korth.” The tree is generally about 30 meters in height, with dark shiny green leaves and yellow flowers.
The leaves contain a number of relatively unstudied chemical alkaloids that may be psychoactive, including “mytragynine,” “mitraphylline,” and “7-hydroxymitragynine,” which are reported to have both simulating and sedating effects on the brain. The leaves of the kratom tree have been used as an herbal intoxicant by people in Southeast Asia since the beginning of recorded history, but here in America it’s virtually unknown.
Dried kratom leaves are usually made into a (rather disgusting tasting) tea, although sometimes the dried leaves are eaten by themselves for their psychoactive effects. At lower doses it tends to act more like a stimulant, while at higher doses it tends to be more sedating, euphoric, dreamy, visionary, and psychedelic. A strong dose of kratom tea feels like a psychedelic opiate to many people, and generally lasts for several hours.
Although kratom can be addictive, and the scientific studies on it are limited, from reports that I’ve read about moderate usage, it appears to be relatively safe, and not nearly as addicting as opiates can be. In fact, many people have used the herb to successfully wean themselves off of opiate addictions, and it may have valuable medical applications as a painkiller, sedative, sleep-aid, and antidepressant.
My personal experience with kratom has been very positive. I’ve enjoyed the simultaneously stimulating and sedating properties of the herb, which can be quite euphoric. In large enough doses it puts me into a lucid dreamlike state, where I have wonderful visions, and blissful waves of pleasure ripple through my body. I found it similar to opium poppy tea, only more stimulating and more psychedelic.
Although Senator Crowe is trying to ban the sale of kratom--and a number of countries have already outlawed it, including Thailand, Malaysia and Australia--it’s perfectly legal here in sunny California. Kratom is available at several shops in downtown Santa Cruz, such as Happy High Herbs on Cathcart Street and Graffix Pleasure on Pacific Avenue.
Many people use kratom as an alternative to opiates for pain relief, but not much is known about its biochemical effects, so more scientific studies on this promising plant are desperately needed.
To learn more about kratom see: www.sagewisdom.org/kratomguide.html
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