Americans know the dangers of drugs such as morphine and heroin. But what about a supplement that acts in the brain a bit like an opiate and is available in many places to kids — even from vending machines.
Kratom, an herb that’s abundant, legal in most states and potentially dangerous, is the subject of an ongoing debate over its risks and benefits.
Usually, the leaf, which comes from a tropical Southeast Asian tree, is chewed, brewed or crushed into a bitter green powder. The chemicals in the herb interact with different types of receptors in the brain — some that respond to opioids, and others to stimulants. Often sold in the U.S. in a processed form — as pills, capsules or extracts — a small amount of kratom can perk you up, while a large dose has a sedative effect.