Author’s Note: This post is part of a larger sequence on addiction, and sampled from an appendix post of mine. For more background on the appendix format I used, read this.

If you are in, suspect you are in, or have struggled in the past with some sort of addiction, feel free to join this Discord server. It is a recovery group I set up focused on helping EAs struggling, in case they think they would benefit from having a space where they can discuss more unique struggles with a group of people who are more likely to understand them. It is currently relatively inactive, but I am trying to change this. If you are uncomfortable with this for any reason, but still want help, feel free to get in touch via DMs, and I can try to help you in some other way.

Once again, a photo by me with effects and filters to hide my poor photography

Like marijuana, I hear some people say that Kratom is not addictive. This is not true. It is not even true in the fairly trivial sense people appeal to for weed where you don’t get withdrawal symptoms. You can get quite nasty withdrawal symptoms from kratom. It is not that common an addiction, I only know two people addicted to it. As far as I can tell though, this is mostly because not a ton of people take it yet, and if you get addicted now, the rarity of the addiction just makes things worse for you, because you will have much fewer resources.

I’m not totally sure where this myth came from, but there are a few possibilities. For one thing, while it’s outlawed in a few states, it’s not really federally regulated once it’s inside the country at all, either as a drug or a food, so the labeling doesn’t have to contain any warnings. Relatedly, while it was almost federally listed as schedule 1, it ultimately wasn’t scheduled at all. As far as I can tell, this was the right decision. I wish kratom was better regulated, but in case this seems unclear from the rest of my writing in this piece, I am opposed to outlawing most drugs. I am not certain if or where exceptions to this general leaning of mine should be – heroin and crystal meth are examples of extremely addictive substances which there is a limited market for (in no small part because of this). I am very sympathetic to the idea that the benefit of outlawing these is worth the costs, but truth be told this has so far paid off in a ton of adulteration with even more dangerous substances like fentanyl or xylazine. If tests strips were better advertised and distributed[1], and maybe gave more fine grained information about amounts of contamination and not just presence, I might be able to make a better judgement on this issue.

Kratom at least seems unlikely to me to be worth outlawing. The issue is, lots of arguably even more innocuous substances like weed and shrooms are currently widely illegal, which I think gives some people the vague impression that kratom must be even more innocuous than these[2]. I think something similar has happened with alcohol. This impression is further vindicated by the places it is sold. From my readings it seems as though it’s often sold at “Kava Bars”, which specialize in the more innocuous substance kava. In my area the place I most often see it advertised is in smoke shops, which mostly sell things like Delta-8[3].

The situation is further complicated by the lack of rigorous evidence about it compared to other drugs on the market – I can say from the people I know that it is fully addictive, but I can’t give a good explanation of how bad it is overall. It is not as bad as alcohol in various ways, the withdrawal isn’t as dangerous for instance. The same is true of heroin. I hope I’ve already covered in some detail why this is a poor standard on its own for measuring how bad a drug is, and alcohol is just uniquely bad in some ways.

There are wildly different anecdotal accounts of how bad it is, though. Some users claim it is no more affecting than coffee. My sister disagrees, and really hates the stuff. In part because of the factors I’ve just discussed which cause it to be more normalized than other drugs, but in part because she feels that it significantly reduces empathy in ways that make subtle differences because of the lack of immediate impact on other aspects of personality (I am somewhat tempted to dismiss this based on others I’ve talked to, but she has tried it herself, knows a couple of kratom addicts personally, and has also tried more conventional hard drugs before).

At the very least it seems like it could be valuable to some people in withdrawal from things like heroin who are unable or unwilling to access things like methadone or buprenorphine. I am much more torn about people who use it for chronic pain, but suspect it is worth it for at least some people in this situation (but not most people). However I would be very careful thinking about it in recreational contexts, like as an alternative to alcohol. I probably recommend it over alcohol, for the withdrawal if nothing else, but it isn’t some innocuous non-addictive alternative.

While both are available in NYC and somewhat advertised, most of the focus has been on naloxone, which is very widely advertised, and available for free all over the city. This is good on its own, naloxone saves lives, but…let’s be honest, how often does it come on time? If you pass someone who looks asleep on the streets of New York, you don’t look closely for signs of overdose, or you would be stopping constantly. Some people use alone in their apartments or houses, and others who use in company are with other people also using, and so who aren’t the most competent to help them or even notice if help is needed. Test strips are a much more direct solution, which I suspect would at least help more than naloxone by preventing overdoses before they happen. But naloxone is just first aid once someone is high right? Test strips make you complicit because people will use them when they intend to shoot up. I am not certain that something like this is the motive behind the difference here, but it would be consistent with my other biggest problems with existing addiction treatment, and frankly mental healthcare in general. ↩︎

I have discussed weed in the context of addiction, but so long as I’m talking about the general harmfulness of things like weed or shrooms, there is an important concession I should share. Outright “paradoxical” reactions to weed and shrooms seem to be even more common than to substances like alcohol and kratom that I ultimately think are worse overall. In the case of shrooms I think this is pretty well known in the form of “bad trips”, but I don’t know how many people understand this well in the context of weed. There is some popular understanding that you can sometimes get a “paranoia” reaction from weed. I think for many of the people I’ve spoken to who just dislike weed a bit this is a decent gloss of their reaction, but you can definitely get very very bad reactions from it as well. To reveal a bit of my casual media habits for a minute, this is the YouTuber Arin Hanson’s account for example.

Something similar happened to me the one time I tried it. It’s hard to explain exactly, but my thoughts were all alternating, so that I couldn’t remember the thought one thought ago, but I could remember my thought two thoughts ago…and then when I had the next thought the same thing would happen, and I would forget the thought I just had, but remember the thought I had forgotten one thought before. If this is a headache to keep track of when reading about it, imagine it actually being what it is like in your brain for a minute. Inescapably. This forced me into this escalating panicked game of recursive mind telephone in real time, meanwhile time felt like it was passing much more slowly, trapping me in it for longer. The overall result was a feeling of mounting dread I could never properly trace or address but could only escalate with confusion. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, I contemplated suicide at one point during it, and I begged my future self with everything I could to never ever try weed again if I managed to get out of this. I have so far held myself to that. I don’t find this toooo surprising, it’s a bit of a DARE talking point but also true that weed can contribute to triggering psychotic disorders in some people. ↩︎

Ed. Note: Also kratom, like kava and weed, has kind of a “natural, nice, authentic, traditional-medicine-type, natural, granola, countercultural” vibe, which makes people subconsciously think it’s “nicer” than rave drugs or heroin or alcohol or… ↩︎

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Executive summary: Kratom is an addictive substance that can cause withdrawal symptoms, contrary to some myths, and while it may have some benefits, it should be approached with caution.

Key points:

  1. Kratom is addictive and can cause withdrawal symptoms, despite myths to the contrary.
  2. The lack of federal regulation and scheduling of kratom may contribute to misconceptions about its safety.
  3. Anecdotal accounts of kratom's effects vary widely, from being similar to coffee to reducing empathy.
  4. Kratom may be helpful for some people in heroin withdrawal or with chronic pain, but should be used cautiously.
  5. The author recommends kratom over alcohol, but emphasizes that it is not a harmless, non-addictive alternative.



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