The original article: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/us/kratom-an-addicts-alternative-is-found-to-be-addictive-itself.html
An Altranet writer named Owen Poindexter stated in an article challenging misconceptions about marijuana that "We must shred the lies that underwrite prohibition." Indeed, we must. Victory for the prohibitionists in the early 20th century unleashed decades of consequences for marijuana users and gave a foundation to America's War on Drugs which has destroyed countless lives and wasted countless billions of dollars; although the financial impact as nothing compared to the human impact of many productive and peaceful citizens being ensnared by the criminal justice system, and many epileptic and cancer suffering people being deprived of legal access to the one medicine which could vastly improve upon their quality of life. In 2016, the prohibitionists are at work again - targeting and demonizing kratom.
Kratom, its scientific name mitragyna speciosa, is a leaf from the Pacific and East Asia with medicinal properties known to that region's people for thousands of years. Although it is not an opiate, it acts on certain opioid receptors in the brain which results in pain relief, a sense of well-being, and depending on the strain either mild stimulation or relaxation. Many communities in the United States have formed around tea bars which provide kratom in the form of tea or powder alongside kava - a different ethnobotanical which is also popularly consumed for its desirable effects on the mind and body. The New York Times had a lot to say about kratom recently and not a lot of science to back it up, because there isn't much room for objectivity when sensationalist fear is the goal. I will address the faulty claims of the above article.
"Three shaky months into recovery from heroin addiction, Dariya Pankova found something to ease her withdrawal. A local nonalcoholic bar sold a brewed beverage that soothed her brain and body much as narcotics had. A perfect solution — before it backfired.
Ms. Pankova grew addicted to the beverage itself. She drank more and more, awakened her cravings for the stronger high of heroin, and relapsed. Only during another stay in rehab did Ms. Pankova learn that the drink’s primary ingredient, a Southeast Asian leaf called kratom, affects the brain like an opiate and can be addictive, too."
I find it extremely dubious that this person was not aware of the opiate-like effect of kratom, for this is stated on the websites of all major kratom vendors on the menus of every tea bar I've frequented. The article does not state how this recovering heroin addict was introduced to kratom - how could she have decided to try it without being told by others recovering from opiate problems about what effects kratom has, or researching it herself online? There is no reason for one to try it if they do not have at least a basic understanding of it, and no reason for The New York Times to imply that in-depth information on the nature of kratom isn't one click away on the web.
“It’s preying on the weak and the broken,” said Ms. Pankova, 23, a Brooklyn native who received treatment in Delray Beach. “It’s a mind-altering substance, so people like me who are addicts and alcoholics, they think just because it’s legal, it’s fine. It’s a huge epidemic down here, and it’s causing a lot of relapses.”
An alternative perspective of another kratom user is mentioned in this article, but the negative testimonies are given the spotlight. I am not going to fault a recovering addict for having her opinion, but I will fault The New York Times for highlighting these unsupported anecdotal claims. As you read on, you will see a strong theme of kratom allegedly being the cause of relapse into opioid abuse.
"Worse, some of those experts say, kratom can lead some addicts back to heroin, which is cheaper and stronger."
Indeed, heroin is magnitudes stronger than kratom which causes me to wonder how this plant could be slandered as so dangerous. Please observe that such drugs as Suboxone and methadone which are intended for opioid and heroin abusers to avoid relapse are not blamed for the relapse in such a way.
"“It’s a fascinating drug, but we need to know a lot more about it,” said Dr. Edward W. Boyer, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a co-author of several scientific articles on kratom. “Recreationally or to self-treat opioid dependence, beware — potentially you’re at just as much risk” as with an opiate.
Concern is particularly high in South Florida, where a rising concentration of drug-treatment providers has coincided with the sprouting of kratom bars. But kratom is now available around the country. Powdered forms of the leaf are sold at head shops and gas-station convenience stores and on the Internet."
If two different classes of substances are held to be equally risky simply because they act on some of the same brain receptors, please allow me to warn you now that coffee drinkers are at just as much risk as users of methamphetamine. And let us consider the potency of kratom vs. an opioid in detail: The highest single dose of the potent opioid pill Zohydro is 30 mg. A very low, marginally effective dose of kratom may be 3 grams. Kratom is one hundred times less potent than a very strong pharmaceutical painkiller, and that is the smallest possible ratio one could work out.
And the kratom bars in South Florida are indeed thriving, though their customer base is not primarily composed of recovering addicts, even though many of those people have made life-changing progress in abstaining from opioids with the help of kratom.
"Linda Mautner, who lives in the Delray Beach area, has claimed that her 20-year-old son, Ian, committed suicide in 2014 in the throes of kratom addiction, but Mr. Mautner was also receiving treatment for depression."
The New York Times neglects to mention that the treatment for this young man's depression included - you guessed it - antidepressants. Pills that carry a "black box warning" of potentially causing suicidal ideation in those under 25.
"Kratom’s narcotic effects have been known for centuries in its native Thailand, which banned the substance decades ago amid widespread abuse."
Thailand did not ban kratom to prevent kratom abuse, Thailand banned kratom to encourage opium abuse, because the opium market significantly contributed to Thailand's economy and many were abandoning opium in favor of kratom.
"Meanwhile, kratom is sold somewhat under the radar. In Carrboro, N.C., a nonalcoholic bar called Krave serves kratom drinks under the name “ketum” to deter connections to the substance’s darker side, the owner, Elizabeth Gardner, said."
Ketum is the Malay name of the leaf, not drug slang or a code word. A direct quote would have been welcome here, as I'm sure the owner of Krave might have been more concerned with an unfounded stigma and harassment by authorities than with the ominous "darker side" of kratom.
"Kavasutra, a popular chain of bars that sell kratom and kava, another plant-based drink, does not list kratom on its menu, but sells it regularly in bottles and small plastic bags of powder.
Kavasutra’s owner, Dylan Harrison, was once one of South Florida’s primary manufacturers and distributors of spice, a synthetic hallucinogen banned under federal law. He was released from federal prison in August 2014 after serving 10 months on drug charges. Several telephone messages left for Mr. Harrison were not returned."
The negative association of one particular person with an entire substance is garbage. Martin Shkreli, the big pharma executive who engaged in predatory price-gouging of the HIV drug Daraprim and securities fraud may be almost universally seen as a despicable person, but does that have anything to do with the efficacy of the drug Daraprim? Absolutely not.
"Another South Florida resident with that experience, Robert Waina, said he had abused dozens of different drugs before discovering kratom three years ago. He enjoyed the mild high to the point that he found himself ordering bottle after bottle. When he tried to cut back, he couldn’t, and eventually suffered from such withdrawals that he had to go to rehab for kratom three times, most recently last spring."
Rehab for the kratom use, or rehab for the underlying polydrug abuse problems which this person attempted to ameliorate with kratom? It is worth mentioning that opioid withdrawals can last for a very long time after discontinuing use.
These were the most glaring lies, but not the only ones. Perhaps even more concerning is a key omission, a statement that should have closed out the article for The New York Times - "This report is sponsored by Big Pharma - our shareholders ask you continue to use and abuse our narcotic painkillers."