Fri. Aug 19th, 2022

This story was originally published on February 26, 2021.

Depending on who you ask, kratom is either a stimulant or a sedative.

In Thailand, day laborers have traditionally chewed the leaves of the kratom tree to boost energy and soothe muscle aches. Here in the U.S., powdered forms of the product are used to make an earthy tea used to treat pain, depression, anxiety and addiction.

When taken in small doses, people report feeling alert and motivated. In high quantities, kratom can have opioid-like analgesic effects. Unfortunately, owing to a lack of approved research, much of the conversation surrounding kratom still remains anecdotal. But that hasn’t kept it from growing in appeal.

Green Maeng Da kratom powder mixed into a tea, which supposedly has motivational effects.

Zack Ruskin / SFGATE

Currently, an estimated 10 million to 15 million Americans are using kratom, and for the purposes of this story, I became one of them, testing a few doses of Green Maeng Da kratom, which purports to have motivational effects (more about that later).

The substance’s reputation as a natural medicine has only recently been gaining traction in the U.S., but goes back centuries in countries like Thailand and Indonesia. Indonesia exclusively supplies the U.S. with kratom leaves and powder – a situation that has resulted in the substance’s nebulous legality. As Thailand actively continues to debate legalizing the export of kratom, domestically the substance is subject to a patchwork of U.S. state laws while federally it is categorized as a dietary supplement.

At present, there are six states which have passed laws against kratom (Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin) while four others (Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Georgia) have conversely established patient protections.

For the remaining 40, including California, kratom remains unregulated at the state level.

This vague legal framework, combined with a murky reputation, has relegated kratom to the ranks of other head shop curios like Salvia divinorum and the San Pedro cactus. In San Francisco, for instance, …….


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