The Brave New Books bookstore on Guadalupe Street has started to advertise for a pain-relieving drug called kratom, which has been banned in several states.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, kratom is the name of a native tree species in Southeast Asia that has leaves with mind-altering opioid compounds. The leaves are consumed directly or brewed into a tea to serve as a mood upper, pain reliever and aphrodisiac.
However, on Aug. 30, 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration filed a notice to classify kratom as a nationwide Schedule I substance, the most restrictive drug category, which includes drugs such as heroin, LSD and marijuana, according to CNN. The DEA has since backed down from the ban because of public opposition, but kratom is still illegal in six states, including Alabama.
Bookstore manager John Bush runs Brave New Books with his wife and said the store has sold kratom for about two years. The couple started marketing to students because they wanted to provide a natural alternative to caffeine and Adderall.
“We’ve had a lot of students come down, and everybody that has taken it has spoken highly of it,” Bush said. “There’s a lot of people who take it instead of going out binge drinking.”
Bush said 50 to 75 students have bought kratom since they started marketing the drug as a study aid, and he has been taking kratom regularly for stress and mental focus for the past seven months.
Lucas Hill, clinical assistant professor of health outcomes and pharmacy practice, said the DEA referenced 15 deaths that were attributed to kratom when it released the notice, but in 14 of those 15 deaths, there was some other recreational drug present in the person’s body.
“I don’t have evidence and have not been able to find evidence that substantiates that kratom is effective for anything like pain relief and drug dependence,” Hill said. “I also don’t have a ton of evidence that it’s harmful.”
People use kratom to get off an addiction from prescription pain killers or to overcome withdrawal symptoms from heroin, Bush said.
“One of our customers was addicted to Percocet for nine years,” Bush said. “Then she discovered kratom, and she was able to get off the Percocet within four days. It’s stories like that that make me feel really passionate about offering it and helping to ensure that it stays legal here in Texas.”
Hill said he is concerned that kratom could be packaged with other drugs to increase potency.
“I personally am worried and would worry for my students or my family to use kratom primarily because it could be adulterated with something,” Hill said.
Psychology junior Kelly Abshire, who has taken a class on pharmapsychology, said she thinks kratom could have potential as a painkiller.
“The way that you (overdose) on things like morphine and heroin is that it just represses your respiratory system to the point where you stop breathing,” Abshire said. “But this drug doesn’t seem to do that.”
Hill said he thinks the DEA will definitely make kratom a Schedule I drug in the near future.
“The U.S. system of regulating drugs really does not leave space for herbal drugs that are very effective,” Hill said. “If you have much of an effect, you’re likely to have some pretty significant adverse effects or side effects. Herbal medicines don’t fit into the conventional American medical paradigm.”
Correction: The original story stated that kratom is illegal in seven states, including Louisiana and Alabama. Kratom is actually legal in Louisiana. The Texan regrets this error.