There are many mind-altering chemicals that provide seemingly similar effects as narcotics, but are often just as, if not more, dangerous than illegal drugs. Often, these drugs exist in a grey area of legality and are readily available at gas station and convenience stores. Although many have not been researched to the extent necessary for criminalization, their detrimental side effects are well known. Recently, kratom, a Southeast Asian tree with leaves containing psychoactive compounds, has grown in popularity for its opioid-like effects. Kratom leaves contain two components that interact with receptors in the brain that cause both analgesic opiate effects and stimulant effects. This is why, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, users report both “sedation, pleasure, and decrease pain”, as well as “increased energy, sociability, and alertness instead of sedation”. Although legal and unregulated at a federal level, kratom has been placed on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Drug of Concern list for its detrimental health effects, which, according to the CDC, may include psychosis, seizures, and death. Other side effects include nausea, itching, sweating, dry mouth, constipation, increased urination, loss of appetite, and, although kratom is not associated with fatal overdose, “commercial forms of the drug are sometimes laced with other compounds that have caused deaths.” Some opiate users have attempted to curb their use of illicit drugs by substituting kratom. Kratom, however, is also addictive and can result in withdrawal symptoms mirroring opiate withdrawal. Currently there are no behavioral therapies or medication approved for the treatment of kratom addiction. Piper methysticum, also known as kava, has gained prominence for its psychoactive properties. Kava is often used for its ability to elicit feelings of relaxation and sedation, with many users taking it in attempt to relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, stress, and menopause. The health risks of kava use stem from its destructive effects on the liver. In a 2002 report, the Food and Drug Administration warns that kava use is associated with liver-related injuries, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database claims that kava use “for as little as one to three months has resulted in the need for liver transplants, and even death”. These detrimental health effects have led to kava being banned in Switzerland, Germany, and Canada, with several other countries on the way toward criminalization. Many drug users turn to these substances because of their legal status, but do not recognize the potential for severe health consequences. Both kava and kratom have the potential to interact with other substances, putting men and women who use drugs and alcohol at greater risk for permanent health complications or death.
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