Many use kratom to quit opioids; others just want to get high. There’s a push to regulate the plant-derived drug—but experts disagree on its safety.

By her mid-20s, Faith Day was out of jail but homeless. She was also addicted to a substance now too legally compromising to name. When she tried to quit, she couldn’t afford the medication to manage the withdrawal symptoms. She looked to the internet for answers. News about a plant called kratom kept popping up in her social media feeds, alongside claims that consuming it would help her break free of addiction. Desperate, she used her last $140—money that would have otherwise gone to the destructive drug—on an ounce she found at a head shop.

Two weeks later, she was off the drug. She has not relapsed since. Now, Day devotes her life and career to kratom. She’s no back-alley pusher—her goal is get kratom out of head shops, gas stations, and dark street corners and into the safe, legal light of day.

By some scientists’ count, there are between 10 million and 15 million kratom users in the US alone. They are using the drug for everything from chronic pain relief to replacement for their morning coffee. It is not an illicit substance; unless you live in one of the six states where kratom possession is criminalized, or are part of the US Army or Navy, which also banned the drug, kratom capsules, extracts, and teas are legal to buy and sell. However, after finding kratom in the systems of dozens of people who have died of drug overdoses, the federal government has been considering a total ban. It warns consumers of potential opioid-like effects, though scientists have questioned the FDA’s methodology in coming to that conclusion. Some people, like Day, will tell you kratom saved their lives. Others ask her if she’s selling “legal heroin.”

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Release the Kratom: Inside America's Hottest New Drug Culture

Release the Kratom: Inside America's Hottest New Drug Culture