POLITICS
09/16/2016 01:10 pm ET

The DEA Didn't Talk To Kratom Users Before Pushing A Ban. Here's What They Would've Said.

These people will soon be criminals in the eyes of the federal government.
A teacup of kratom powder, made from the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa, a Southeast Asian tree related to coffee. Th
Melissa Luis
A teacup of kratom powder, made from the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa, a Southeast Asian tree related to coffee. The DEA plans to make kratom a Schedule I drug as early as the end of September.

“Oxycontin, morphine, fentanyl, Darvocet.”

Deanna McNair, 36, pauses before ticking off the rest of the drugs she’s been prescribed for pain following a series of car accidents and subsequent surgeries.

“Percocet, Opana, Norco, methadone,” she continues. “Not all at the same time, of course.”

Then there are the muscle relaxers, antidepressants and medications McNair had to take just to treat the side effects of her other prescriptions.

The panoply of pharmaceuticals was a necessity for McNair. Over a period of 13 years, she underwent five lumbar surgeries and one cervical surgery. Three vertebrae in her lower back are now fused, as is one in her neck.

“The drugs helped with the pain, but not with getting back to life,” McNair said. “They make you loopy, they make you tired, they make you nod out when you’re taking them.”

The prescription regimen left McNair unable to drive. She could no longer focus in class, so she put her education on hold. Despite being dependent on opioids for pain relief, McNair said she was luckier than many people. She never got addicted, and eventually stopped taking the painkillers when she felt she no longer needed them.

“I did experience withdrawals, but I just told myself it was the flu,” she said of the sweaty aches, cramps and nausea typically associated with coming off opioids.

McNair was eventually able to whittle down her list to five medications. About a year ago, just one, Percocet, was for her chronic pain. She was using it only as needed, maybe a few times a month.

It was an improvement, McNair said. But she was still suffering from anxiety, nerve pain and depression, and the pills were affecting her quality of life. She wasn’t ready to accept that this was as good as it could get.

Then McNair discovered the herbal supplement kratom. Now that’s all she takes.

“I’ve been able to replace all the prescription medicines,” McNair said.

Kratom is made from the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa, a Southeast Asian tree related to coffee. People have been using it in Asia for centuries and perhaps longer, and laborers today still chew the leaves for energy. In the 20th century, kratom, which contains alkaloids that activate opioid receptors, gained popularity in Thailand as a replacement for opium. Although most opioids have sedative qualities, low to moderate quantities of kratom actually serve as a mild stimulant.

McNair takes capsules filled with the powdered plant matter a few times a day. The kratom works quickly to address her pain, while giving her energy and focus, she said. McNair is taking classes again, and she’s happy to have gotten her life back.

Stories like McNair’s aren’t uncommon. (Read about the experiences of other people below.)

Kratom has been gaining popularity in the West over the past few years, attracting attention from prospective patients and drug warriors alike. People most frequently use kratom as a treatment for chronic pain and a variety of other symptoms, including anxiety, depression and opioid addiction.

Many kratom advocates suffer from debilitating disorders, like fibromyalgia, or severe joint pain stemming from past injuries or surgeries. Others carry only psychological pain. Most users have spent years searching for a way to effectively treat their conditions, a quest that more often than not involves a variety of prescription drugs. Some say the pills didn’t work at all. Others say they did, but at an extreme cost, including acute side effects, crippling dependency or addiction. Kratom is different, they claim, and provides many of the same benefits without the downsides. Thousands of kratom users now gather online to share their experiences and coordinate bulk purchasing of raw kratom powder from farmers in Asia.

But the federal government seems to think kratom is too good to be true. The Drug Enforcement Administration announced last month that it was moving to place kratom in Schedule I ― alongside heroin and LSD ― as soon as Sept. 30. Drugs in this category are considered to have no known medical benefit and a high potential for abuse. They also carry harsh legal penalties for possession and distribution.

The DEA argues this move is necessary because kratom hasn’t been approved as a medical treatment by any federal regulatory agency. Isolated reports also suggest that a small though growing number of Americans are doing harm to themselves by abusing the herb. In the six years from January 2010 to December 2015, U.S. poison centers handled 49 cases associated with kratom that involved “life-threatening signs or symptoms, with some residual disability.” It’s unclear how significant a role, if any, the kratom itself played in these episodes, as many incidents involved people who had taken multiple substances. But the DEA used the finding as a basis to conclude that the herb poses an “imminent hazard to public safety.”

Kratom advocates are now crying foul at the federal government’s rush to make them criminals without ever having sought their input or any sort of public comment. They accuse the DEA of cherry-picking data and misrepresenting kratom’s potential for harm, while failing to differentiate between natural forms of the herb and the legitimately concerning “gas station” kratom products, which may be mislabeled or contain unknown adulterants. Users also say the DEA ignored emerging science that could support anecdotal evidence of the herb’s therapeutic benefits. One doctor has even suggested that the alkaloids in kratom could help lead to the development of safer alternatives to the narcotic painkillers that have helped fuel the opioid epidemic.

As the kratom community shares its own experiences in an attempt to fill in the gaps deliberately left by the DEA, a few themes become clear.

Most kratom users are not fanatics of quack medicine. Some may be deeply skeptical or distrustful of pharmaceuticals, but not without reason. Many people who have turned to kratom only did so after years of failed attempts to find effective treatment through more traditional avenues. Kratom works for them where those methods failed. For some, the herb seems to border on a miracle drug. For others, it’s simply a cheaper, milder, all-natural alternative to the pills they’d gotten from doctors. Many believe more broadly that they should be free to choose their own treatment without government intrusion, a point of view that clearly puts them at odds with the DEA.

Kratom users are also convinced that the herb has a low potential for acute harm ― a view supported by preliminary research ― and believe people are misstating the risks associated with addiction and dependency. Most users claim that taking too much kratom, or raw kratom ingested on its own, at least, will lead only to nausea and vomiting. And while most users claim kratom is not physically addictive, they admit it can lead to dependency. But many of the people who use kratom have serious underlying medical conditions that require some form of treatment. If they weren’t dependent on kratom, they say, they’d be dependent on something else. Because kratom doesn’t drive them to other drug-seeking behavior or leave them with intense withdrawal symptoms, they see it as a preferable substitute to prescription opioids.

Users also believe the sudden move to ban kratom exposes the federal government’s hypocrisy when it comes to addressing the suffering unleashed by the opioid epidemic. The White House and members of Congress have been vocal about encouraging doctors to prescribe fewer opiates, but now the DEA is banning an herbal alternative that has already allowed many people to get off of such narcotic painkillers, or to avoid them completely. Kratom has also been used to wean people off heroin or other prescription maintenance treatments for opioid addiction. Users are quick to point out that pharmaceutical companies must be pleased by the DEA’s move to kill off an affordable competitor.

Above all, however, kratom users are passionate about having found a treatment that works for them. And now, they’re distraught about being forced to choose between continuing to use kratom criminally, returning to pharmaceuticals or potentially ending treatment altogether.

The Huffington Post reached out to dozens of kratom users to get their stories. Below are a number of their responses. Some have been edited or condensed for clarity. Some individuals wanted to be identified by only their first name or a middle name because they weren’t comfortable speaking publicly about soon-to-be-criminalized behavior.

Tammy Alender, 44

I’m 44 years old. I have three grown daughters and soon to be four granddaughters. Two of my granddaughters live with me and I have to care for them 24/7.

Back in 1997, my lower lumbar spine was broken in a domestic violence incident. I didn’t choose this life. It was done to me. I didn’t have surgery to fix my broken spine until 2002. The surgery failed and also caused an incurable and incredibly painful condition known as arachnoiditis. This causes the nerves inside the spinal cord to bind and clump together. The pain of arachnoiditis has been compared to bone cancer, but without the release of death.

Doctors told me my working days were over and I would eventually be in a wheelchair. I fought and worked as long as I could until July 2014, when I finally had to stop. We could no longer afford one of my two very strong pain medications because it cost us more than half of our monthly rent. You tell me who can afford $360 per month for just one medication. I don’t have insurance. Even when I did, most companies wouldn’t cover expensive pain meds like fentanyl, and I was on a maxed-out dose ― the highest dose allowed by law. Try suddenly coming off of that! It was horrible.

I had to step down to a much cheaper, yet far less effective medication and it just didn’t cut it. I was hobbling around the house with a cane. I was stuck in my recliner all day, every day. I felt like I was 100 years old. I was also diagnosed with arthritis, fibromyalgia and hypothyroidism. Then a friend sent me some kratom and told me to try it. I didn’t believe it could help but she just kept pushing me to do it. What did I have to lose? It took me almost two weeks of consistent use before I finally had good results.

One day, I actually ran up the stairs that I had previously barely been able to walk up. I ran! And my legs didn’t hurt! They didn’t burn! My muscles weren’t screaming at me. Yet my head was clear! No fuzzy thinking or sleepiness that had occurred with prescription meds. I could function again, I could take my grandkids to the park. I could go grocery shopping. I still have to pace myself, but I can do so much more now thanks to kratom. 

A spoonful of kratom powder, alongside a mug of kratom tea.
Tammy Alender
A spoonful of kratom powder, alongside a mug of kratom tea.

Rena, 45

Rena asked to be identified by her middle name.

I started kratom on and off about a year ago after getting some advice from a good friend who is an herbalist. I take it for depression and anxiety after my sister passed away from an overdose on prescription drugs. You wake up and you’re getting ready for work one day and you get a phone call that your sister is dead. It changed my life. After her death from pharmaceuticals, I refuse to take any kind of pill from a doctor. They are drug dealers in white jackets. I do go to therapy. But not pills.

Kratom is not addictive at all for me. I struggled with opioid addiction myself. I don’t think people realize how fast that can happen. But now, I can stop taking kratom whenever I want, for a week or a month with no withdrawal ― just maybe a little fatigue since it gives me energy (like drinking a really strong coffee). 

This is all I need. I don’t need any additional drugs. I take a couple of spoonfuls of kratom a day and that’s it. I have never heard of anyone dying from kratom who wasn’t mixing it with other drugs. If you take too much it makes you nauseous and throw up. I take a little in the morning, then a little about mid-afternoon. I have taken it for pain after a back surgery last April and I felt it helped more than the pills they tried to give me.

If the ban goes through I will find another natural way to deal with my depression and anxiety. I won’t give doctors and pharmaceutical companies money just to pad their pockets. To me, they have blood on their hands. I wouldn’t give them a chance with my life and their drugs.

I’m scared for my friends. I have seen them turn their lives around because of kratom. Some were homeless and heroin addicts who now lead normal lives with their families and kids. The ones that scare me the most are the ones who will go back to the pills!

The government wants to picture us all as these massive drug addicts. I’ve met people in their 70s and 80s who say this is all they can do to function every day. And if they ban this, they have to go back to the way they were.

I lost my sister, and I would never want another family to go through the pain and everything that comes with it. I want to do something in honor of my sister. I don’t want her death to be in vain.

Caleb, 35

I started using kratom four to five months ago, when I was looking for herbal alternatives for mood boosters. I was a bit of an alcoholic and am diagnosed with recurring depression and anxiety. Kratom gets rid of this. It’s the perfect fit for my biological makeup. I take kratom as a mood boost/ anti-anxiety/ antidepressant.

Previously, I used alcohol. And about six years ago, it was opiates. Poppy tea mainly. Always a low dose just to keep the mood up. I wasn’t the type to go out trying to get high. I just wanted to be happy. Now I don’t use drugs, except for maybe one beer at night.

I use 9 to 16 grams of kratom per day, mostly in the realm of 12 grams. This is when I use it because I do take about one day off each week. I also use other herbs like kava kava and Rhodiola rosea. I have anxiolytic beta blockers too if anxiety goes up on my day off. That doesn’t really tend to be a problem. I just like having a positive mood daily. Everyone does.

Kratom makes me feel hopeful. My thoughts are positive and I have more leadership. If there’s something that needs to be done or written or talked about, I have a positive mindset that we can do this. It also keeps me from drinking at night since I’m already in a good mood. I might still have one beer to fall asleep to but that’s it. I used to drink five beers a night. Too much!

Kratom does not impact my life negatively unless you consider this consternation coming from the DEA. The first week you take it your stomach takes about 5 to 10 minutes to adjust to it and you might want to take a Tums but it’s no big deal. That goes away after the first week.

I haven’t seen kratom addiction in me or anyone. There is some physical dependence. Just like when whatever drug that’s working for you wears off you might want a little bit more. Coffee, beer, anti-anxiety meds, etc., they all can wear off and you might want more. It’s about like that for me. Some people might have it a little stronger but they might not understand using anxiolytics like kava or beta blockers if that occurs. Or you can take a half-dose of kratom and it knocks it out. Not a big deal since it comes with basically no side effects ― for me and many others at least.

When first starting out, I took a tiny bit too much and it just gave me a “bleh” feeling. I’ve been told if you go too far with kratom that you’ll throw up.  

Yes, I’m in the kratom community that is under attack. I’ve spoken to thousands of people. It’s such a nice community. We talk about normal stuff like what herbs we take and whatnot. People are happy. You don’t see issues with kratom.

We are fighting the ban. After the ban I’ll probably do the same thing my brother does with weed ― just keep it on the DL.

Dreama McFadden, 42

McFadden works as a registered nurse at an ICU in Scioto County, Ohio, where she’s witnessed the ravages of the opioid epidemic on a daily basis. She also uses kratom to manage pain stemming from non-diabetic neuropathy. She recently published an open letter to the DEA on the decision to ban kratom. Below is an excerpt. Read the whole letter here.

If I could ask the powers that be at the DEA one question it would be this: “What do you suggest we do now?” You say opiates are bad. I agree. But what about those of us who suffer chronic pain on a daily basis? What options will be available to us? Especially if we find becoming addicted to prescription pain meds an unacceptable alternative? Should we just suck it up and deal with the pain?

So far, kratom has helped me continue to work. I even feel good enough to take my daughters places. It helps me be a better nurse and a better mother. I don’t WANT to end up on disability. I don’t want to become a shell of the person I could be. Kratom has changed my life, and it could change so many more. 

For thousands of Americans, this is what medicine looks like.
Courtney Underwood
For thousands of Americans, this is what medicine looks like.

Leslie Wilson, 31

I take kratom for a few reasons. First, for anxiety and depression. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder seven months ago and prescribed Cymbalta, an antidepressant. I was not excited to have to take pills for the rest of my life, especially because of the awful side effects and negative reviews I’d read about the medication, so I looked into natural alternative medications. I found kratom and I did my research, and I liked what I read, so I put in an order.

Now, I also take kratom for tooth pain because I need two root canals and cannot afford them at the moment. It is unbearable at times, but when I take my kratom, 10 minutes later the pain goes away completely! It is like magic.

I cannot think of any way that kratom has negatively impacted my life. Kratom is the best thing that has happened to me for a long time. The only thing I do not like about it is the taste, but when I mix it up with orange juice or grapefruit juice, I can’t even taste it anymore. I have never felt addicted to it. I take small doses (3-5 grams, depending on the strain) and usually take it every other day, although I have skipped it for a few days when I was feeling very happy in my life. I have taken it to excess in the way that I may have taken a couple of extra grams when I was experimenting with doses while trying new strains. That has probably happened three times total, and all that happened was that my stomach got queasy for a couple of minutes, then I threw up a little kratom. I then felt better immediately. I have had minor hangovers worse than that!

My mother and grandmother were also diagnosed with bipolar disorder when they were younger. They had self-medicated with alcohol and drugs, including heroin and meth. My grandma drank so much that she fell into a coma and we had to unplug her life support. My mother had years and years of drug- and alcohol-related problems, until she tried to commit suicide. She lived, and moved in with my little sister to take care of herself. She is now on methadone and has just started turning to kratom because the methadone makes her sleep all day.

I am saying all of this because over the last few years I have self-medicated myself much in the same way. Even just eight months ago, I was drinking heavily because of my depression. It was horrible! Once I found kratom, after just the first use, I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol. Before that, I had also been taking opiates as self-medication. That was about five years ago, and back then I knew nothing about kratom. I had been experimenting with ayahuasca for almost seven years, and it helped with my issues, but when I got married and had a baby, I could no longer do that. So I ended up drinking alcohol, until that became a problem, and I had to ask for help. The first step for the doctor was to diagnose me with bipolar disorder and give me prescription drugs.

After my first time using kratom, I was changed. I felt so happy and energized, I felt like I was finally the person I was always meant to be. I felt strong, proud, happy, energetic, ambitious, joyful. I did all sorts of art and all sorts of exercise, started cooking healthier meals, and I just had more energy to have fun with my family. When I take my kratom, I can honestly say that I feel as though I never had bipolar disorder, as if I were just a normal, kickass mother and wife. I have never been happier!

As for my plan for when kratom is banned (hoping that it doesn’t happen), my honest answer is that I am stocking up. I am buying enough to last me years. My husband has even given me $250 to put toward my medicine because he knows this is important.

This doesn’t mean I can’t live without kratom because I am addicted. I have been able to not take kratom for days with no withdrawals or longing. It is really hard to describe. I will live without it physically, but spiritually, I will just be dead again. I feel the best I have ever been in my entire life, with morals, honestly, love, hope, faith and just loving my place in life. That last happened when I was an innocent child. Kratom has brought me back to that spot. I am a better mother and a better wife, and I am just plain happy with kratom. I am heartbroken about all of this, as many others are. I cried for three days after I heard the news about the ban. It feels like someone I love has died.

Daniel Wurz, 31

Kratom is one of the most effective natural supplements I have ever experienced. It has helped me far more than any other medication I have been prescribed, and there are several reasons for that. First, it alleviates my pain, allowing me to function normally. Second, I feel no side effects. Third, it is all-natural. Fourth, it is relatively cheap compared with costs of other medications. For instance, one can purchase a 3- to 6-month supply for what it would normally cost for a traditional prescription. Finally, it helps for a long list of ailments beyond pain.

I have been using Kratom since 2011, taking it two or three times a week, as needed. I’ve gone months without taking it, and I have also taken it every day of the week at certain points.

I take it for pain ― specifically for two herniated discs, L4 and L5.  I was originally injured playing baseball in 2011, however the herniation worsened and surgery was required in March 2015 and again in June 2016. My L4 was a 5mm herniation ― causing me to lose the ability to walk.

In 2011, when the pain originally started, I was given a prescription for hydrocodone. I took as needed and soon discovered I certainly despised the way it made me feel. The drowsiness, irritability, general feeling of sluggishness. I also felt my body forming a dependency. One pill used to give me some sort of relief, and then by the end of the second month I needed two or three pills to get that same level of relief. All the red flags in my brain started going off, so I stopped taking them, and probably 24 to 48 hours after that, my body was shaky, I was sweating, I felt like I was having heart palpitations. I was freaking out. I talked to my doctor and he said, ‘Yeah, you were going through withdrawals.’ After just two months. That scared the shit out of me.

I decided to end the prescription. I have turned down other prescriptions for hydrocodone and oxycodone in favor of taking kratom.

I made the conscious decision to try kratom after a visit with a doctor of osteopathic medicine in California. She advocated for its pain-relieving properties without any of the harsh side effects from the popularly prescribed pain medications. At the time, information was sparse and the only other person I consulted with was a co-worker whose mother took kratom daily for fibromyalgia.

After educating myself on the different strains, variations and extracts, I ordered a conservative amount and tried it that following weekend. I took the suggested amount (a teaspoon), and after 45 minutes, I felt a soothing wave slowly relax my pain and mood. The only way I can state it, is that it felt “natural.” It would be a lie to say it completely absolved me of any/all pain, but it certainly made my pain more tolerable.  

An additional benefit to note is the lack of side effects. I have my blood work checked every three to six months. Kidneys and liver have never shown any abnormal readings. I am a father and business professional working for a government contractor. In my profession, I have to be mentally prepared and “sharp” at all times. In my experience, pain medication made my thought process feel sluggish and labored. Kratom does not hinder my ability to think or react in any way. Actually, I could argue the opposite, sometimes the euphoric effect has given me a boost of mental energy, almost as if I was given a boost of motivation.

I think it does have the potential for abuse. With anything that acts in the way kratom does (by binding to opioid receptors), there is that potential. But if you’re taking it as a legitimate treatment, would you benefit more by being hooked on kratom or hooked on narcotics?

Many people are planning to remain on kratom, but there is some fear within the community among people who are stocking up, because once this is Schedule I, if you have 8 kilograms in your house, that’s probably however many years in prison. All for something that they used to use every day.

Rachel Jones, 31

I’m a wife and mother who has been plagued by chronic pain for close to a decade due to congenital joint problems and degenerative issues. The large majority of my adult life has been spent chasing various treatments, including injections, surgeries, chiropractic care, physical therapy and medication management.  Over the course of that 10 years, I had been prescribed 35 different medications for pain, insomnia, depression, anxiety, neurological symptoms, etc., with each new medication making me more and more sick. Two years ago, I was inexplicably cut off by my doctor and couldn’t find any doctor willing to take me on as a patient. For six months, I was at a point where one of two things was gonna happen: I was gonna find something that was gonna help me, or I was going to completely take myself out of the equation. I was suicidal at that point.

I began researching natural remedies to treat my various conditions. That’s when I found kratom. Before that, on a good day, my pain level had consistently hovered at a 6. Most days, I stayed at an 8+. Within 30 minutes of drinking kratom tea, my pain melted away and, for the first time in years, I was at a pain level of 2. I was completely clear-headed and had virtually no side effects. Something that could not be said about the various pharmaceuticals I had been prescribed over the years.  

That was 18 months ago. My husband has his wife back. My three beautiful girls have their mom back. I am no longer depressed or suicidal. The DEA would like you to believe that kratom poses a significant threat to public safety. How can anyone look at my story and believe that?

I should have the right to treat my pain and treat my conditions the way that I see fit. I’m not harming anybody. I’m not harming myself. I actually just had blood work done the other day and I’m in perfect health except for my chronic pain. The only threat to public safety is the countless lives that will be shattered by this proposed ban.

I’m a law-abiding citizen. I don’t want to make a decision to put myself or my family in jeopardy. But I don’t know what that means for me. Does that mean I go back to basically being housebound and not able to be the mom and the wife I am, and not being able to be involved in my children’s lives and being involved in the community? My life is definitely going to radically change, because I don’t want to go back to prescriptions.

Leaves of a Mitragyna speciosa tree. Farmers typically dry the leaves and crush them into a fine powder to make kratom.
frank600 via Getty Images
Leaves of a Mitragyna speciosa tree. Farmers typically dry the leaves and crush them into a fine powder to make kratom.

Danielle, 28

Danielle, who asked to be identified by her middle name, is an Army veteran who suffered a severe spinal injury while on active duty in 2007. She also suffers from complications stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder. Like millions of others, both in and out of the military, the first course of treatment for her medical problems was prescription pharmaceuticals.

“I was on so many different pills from the VA,” she said. “I ended up becoming dependent on opioids and it ended up destroying my life. I ended up getting a divorce ― I lost my job, I lost everything.”

Finally, Danielle managed to dig herself out of the hole the pills had created. But she was still suffering from chronic pain. About four years ago, she found kratom.

“I take a teaspoon every four hours,” she said. “It costs $50 a month.”

Danielle said the kratom manages the pain, but also leaves her with mental clarity. It’s now the only drug she takes. Danielle is worried that if she no longer has kratom as an option, she’ll be forced back onto a treatment regimen like the one that ruined her life.

“Why would they want me taking 10 pills a day when I have something already that makes me feel better than those pills and in my eyes is a lot healthier,” she said. “What people need to understand mostly is that while the VA is treating PTSD with medication, we’ve got 22 of my brothers and sisters committing suicide each day, so obviously it’s not working.”

If the DEA’s move goes through, Danielle isn’t entirely sure how she’ll cope.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me,” she said. “I’ve worked so hard to get my life back to normal and I’m just scared that it’s going to be destroyed by their decision.”

Clinton, 38

I started using kratom for chronic knee problems ― it has been injured on three separate occasions. I started using it because my doctor did not think my regimen of 15 to 20 ibuprofens a day was good for my knee or my internal organs, so I looked for a natural remedy.

I’m not a gun-shooting, Bible-toting Republican. Everything I do is based in science, so for me to use an herbal supplement ― it’s the first time I’ve done something like this. I tried kratom and have been using it for over a year. I’ve had little problems with prescription painkillers, but that’s also why I’ve never been addicted to them. I don’t like to take them. I use kratom daily for my knee and it has enabled me to cross-country mountain bike ride again. My personal best trail ride is 57.5 miles in five hours, which was just two months ago.

I get nothing off kratom other than a little bit of energy and the dulling of my knee pain. I use it almost daily in doses of 3 grams in pills I fill myself, with powder I buy from an herbal supplement shop. I value-shop, so I buy when on sale and rotate through the strains that have the highest pain-reducing qualities. I spend about $70 a month.

People who say that kratom is not addictive at all are just lying. It is. But only in the sense that coffee is. Coffee is the same way. I have to have a cup of coffee every day.

I have no idea what I’m going to do to manage pain after the ban takes effect. Here are my choices: I can quit biking, which will be bad for my overall health because aerobic exercise is really important. It’s either that or I have to go into a pain management clinic, because that’s the only kind of place that will treat the type of knee injury pain I have. And that becomes very expensive, especially with the kind of insurance I have.

It’s my body. I should be able to put into it what I want to put into it. I’m not a criminal as the DEA is about to make me. My quality of life is that threatened because of this decision.

Christa, 27

Christa has struggled with opioid addiction for years. She’d previously used kratom to get off heroin for long stretches, though she said she was unable to find the herb after a recent move to Delaware. Christa recently relapsed and bought drugs on the street. What she got was much stronger than the heroin she thought she was getting. She overdosed and wound up in the hospital. Christa is now at a clinic seeking treatment.

“I was clean for two years and I took kratom to come off,” Christa said. “I would take it for about a month until the physical side effects of withdrawal from heroin and pain pills left me. Then I’d take it on my bad days when I really wanted to use or when I was really in pain. It helped me stay clean and try to get my life back together.”

Those who question whether kratom can be effective as a maintenance or step-down treatment most likely can’t comprehend the agony of an opioid withdrawal, Christa said.

“It’s one of the worst feelings I’ve ever felt, and the reason many people don’t come off of those drugs most of the time is the fear of the withdrawal,” she said. “Kratom made it manageable to the point where I wasn’t really worried about coming off of opiates or heroin.”

For Christa, people who say kratom is just as bad as painkillers or heroin don’t understand the nature of addiction.

“In my opinion, an addict is an addict,” she said. “And it doesn’t have to be drugs. People can be addicted to work, to working out, to coffee, to chocolate. Even if they come off of drugs, they become dependent on something else, whatever that is. They need something to fill their time and to fill that hole.”

The idea of fully conquering addiction is unrealistic, even impossible for some people, said Christa. A holistic view of harm reduction, not grounded in an abstinence-only approach to treatment, holds that it’s possible to be successful in recovery without going cold turkey. 

“I would much rather take a leaf, a cousin to coffee, than be on the street,” Christa said. 

Christa is currently taking a low dose of Subutex, a prescription maintenance drug designed to treat addiction to narcotic painkillers, she said. But it doesn’t hold her all the time, and she still has days she wants to go get high or has trouble getting out of bed.

“The medicine I get at the clinic keeps me off the street, but it’s still very iffy,” she said. “The kratom can help take away that if.”

Christa is still intent on having a successful recovery, and said her mother serves as proof that kratom can help her do it.

“My mother, after she watched me go through my addiction for so many years, had surgery on her shoulder and her back, and ended up getting addicted to painkillers,” she said. “Her doctor just took them from her, so she ended up buying them off the street. I introduced her to kratom, and now she uses it to supplement her pain and doesn’t use opiates or prescription medication.”

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