SPECIAL REPORT: What is Kratom?

SPECIAL REPORT: What is Kratom?

MIDLAND-ODESSA, TX (KWES) - Kratom can be found in pills, a liquid, powder or leaves. Many people brew it into a tea. 

Kratom is derived from the leaves of a tree-like plant that grows in southeast Asia, it's a relative of the coffee plant. 

It's been used for hundreds of years there to treat ailments like pain.

In low doses, users say it can give you energy.

"It's a happy feeling. It's kind of a happy euphoria. A pick me up," said William Fairall, a Kratom user.

In higher doses, they say it can be more of a sedative. 

Some claim Kratom helps combat their addictions to opiates like heroin or opioids like Vicodin and Oxycontin. 

"Sometimes there comes a point in my life where I have bad cravings. Basically I want to get high. When I found Kratom, it went away. For me, it doesn't give me any type of opiate high. It doesn't feel like I am going to nod off or go to sleep, " said Ethan Roberts.

Others use it for chronic pain, depression or anxiety instead of prescription drugs.  

"I had a torn rotator cuff in my shoulder and other various pains. Kratom helps me relax it helps with the pain. It gets rid of it naturally. It helps me relax without the after affects of pain pills. What I especially like about Kratom and it keeps me from getting intoxicated, just like down and out like drugs do," said Kratom advocate Michael French in a YouTube video.

Kratom is touted as all natural since it comes from a plant but Midland Coalition drug counselors say don't fool yourself.

Heroin and cocaine come from plants too. 

Just because Kratom is legal, they say it doesn't mean it's safe.

"Alcohol is legal and safe. We can say a number of things are legal and safe. Just because it's legal and safe doesn't necessarily mean it's safe especially when it's abused," said Veronica Luna, a Midland Coalition drug counselor. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration thinks it can be highly addictive too.

They want to classify it as a schedule 1 drug like heroin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). The agency points out there is not a lot of research on the safety of Kratom and it's not used by the medical community.

They're seeing more and more of it sold in stores, over the Internet and coming into this country.

We found Kratom sold in pills in Midland County. 

$9.99 for five pills and the cost goes up to $94.99, depending on how much you want. 

"I think it's pretty cheap considering it's organic. Even organic vitamins are more expensive. I would call it a cheap high, just because they can get it cheap and get more for a big amount." said Ashley Hoppman, a Midland Coalition drug counselor.

But that high can be costly, the DEA cites 15 deaths involving Kratom between 2014 and 2016.

Kratom advocates argue that's far fewer deaths than from other drugs. They point out all but one Kratom death, involved other drugs or illegal substances in the person's system. 

But before you consider popping Kratom, consider this. Midland Coalition drug counselors point out it's a chemical that changes how you feel. The more you use it to feel better, they say, the more you'll rely on it. 

"First you're thinking this is going to be your fix. If it makes you feel good in any kind of way, you're going to continue to do it. As you continue to do it, you're going to lose sight of what normal may have been, " said Michele Savage, Executive Director for the Palmer Drug Abuse Program. 

Kratom users said it is not habit forming but drug counselors disagree.

"You're going to build up a tolerance. You can build up a tolerance to anything," said Hoppman.

"It doesn't get you high anymore. It doesn't give you the happiness it did before. It doesn't take away the pain like it did before. It doesn't give you the energy it did before. You're having to take larger and larger amounts. It becomes an addiction to the point that you're just taking it to feel normal," said Luna.

Drug counselors said if you're already an addict, you're likely to get hooked on Kratom too.

"It's like trading one addiction for another. It's like putting a Band-Aid on a burn and not putting any ointment on it. You're not dealing with the problem, " said Hoppman.

Those problems could be things like depression, anger, abuse and even loss.

The Palmer Drug Abuse program helps teens in families with drug abuse.

They say any kind of drug, including Kratom, is just a mask to cover coping with those issues.

"We are a society that is always looking to get the quick fix, rather than changing their lifestyle, doing something different, really looking at what is motivating them to take this chemical," said Savage.

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