A Southeast Asian plant known as “kratom” has sparked differing opinions on the danger of its use as an illicit drug. The plant can either be chewed in its native area of Thailand or used as a powder in the U.S. for an energizing rush. The effects of the drug have been portrayed by much of the media as life-threatening and dangerous while users of the drug claim it is no more harmful than a jolt of caffeine. Kratom is currently illegal in Thailand but the Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitsiri is hoping to end the ban on a drug he thinks will be a safe way for people to kick their growing addiction to meth.
Meth use has increased rapidly in Thailand and has become an epidemic the Minister hopes to battle with less harmful drugs like kratom as an alternative. He wants to have the plant re-evaluated to prove that its effects are not as dangerous as people believe. There have been no instances of overdose associated with the drug or even violent crime in all of its recorded history. In Thailand, kratom has been banned for over 70 years but a review of the drug could help to change the image of the plant and its use. If the illegal status of the drug were to change it would become available through prescription, decriminalized in small amounts or could be completely legalized.
In the U.S., kratom is legal in most states but is now on the federal watch list and has been banned in Indiana. Media coverage in America about the drug has been mostly negative, portraying the drug as being associated with much more powerful and harmful stimulants like “bath salts.” The media in Thailand has also created misconceptions about the drug by associating it with violent behavior. In reality the leafy plant is traditionally chewed by farmers in south Thailand as a pick-me-up while working in the fields. Users of the drug say it provides a gentle rush but does not impair your abilities. The effects are nowhere near those of methamphetamines or even marijuana. It seems that overdose is unlikely as chewing more of the plant does not provide any more of the type of sensations from a smaller amount.
Kratom had become a more obscure drug in Thailand until recently its status as an illegal drug became a pretext for police to raid Muslim villages looking for followers of the jihadi movement on the Malaysian border. Members of the jihadi tend to favor a drug cocktail known as 4x100 which contains kratom, coca-cola and cheap cough syrup. This drink associated with kratom has been misconstrued as deadly and often mixed with toxic chemicals but these are usually stories propagated by the media and are not based in any real evidence.
In order to legalize kratom in Thailand, the Justice Minister will have to face the negative public image of the drug which is largely based on hearsay. The nation’s opinion on the drug is about equally divided with half of Thai people worried about legal kratom misuse and the other half viewing the drug as harmless. Meth addiction has become widespread in Thailand due to the availability of cheap meth tablets which are easier for young people to get a hold of than kratom. The Ministry of Justice believes it should be the other way around so that more available weaker drugs can help to cut down on Meth abuse. Studies on the actual effects of the drug and more accurate media coverage about its harmlessness will help to improve the public’s views on this traditional drug.