Using heroin was always dangerous, but not like it is today. Since fentanyl arrived in B.C., an addiction has become a daily game of Russian roulette.
The surge in overdose deaths—more than 1,500 projected for 2017—has sent a lot of users looking with a renewed sense of urgency for a path off opioids.
In Vancouver, one possible alternative that’s gaining chatter is Mitragyna speciosa, or #kratom.
Patrick Smith is a well-known member of the Downtown Eastside arts scene. He’s been down the road of addiction before.
“I was clean for 16 years,” Smith began. “Then I had this kidney stone, had this chronic pain going on, and, before I knew it, I was up to six Dilaudids a day.” Dilaudid is the brand name for hydromorphone, a prescription painkiller similar to heroin.
“I got to get off these,” he told himself. “I’ve been a heroin addict and I don’t want to go back there.”
Smith scoured the Internet for alternatives.
“I was in pain,” he continued. “And so I felt like I didn’t have a choice but to take these [Dilaudid]. And I could see where my life was going to spiral back down, out of control. I was scared shitless. And then I found kratom.”
A 2015 paper by UBC’s Zach Walsh (among a list of coauthors) describes kratom as a “psychoactive plant that has long been used in Southeast Asian countries”. In Malaysia and Thailand, its recorded use as a pain medication and energy supplement dates back to at least as early as the 1830s, according to the paper.
“Kratom has also been used in Asia as an opium substitute,” it continues, citing British research from the 1930s, “a practice that continues today due to the plant’s reported utility as an aid for opioid withdrawal.”
Kratom is usually ingested as a green powder, mixed into a liquid such as tea. To get a sense of how it feels, imagine a spectrum of highs that runs from a cigarette to a shot of heroin. Kratom is on the left of it, with its exact placement depending on how much one ingests. A few teaspoons can compare to the strength of a cup of coffee while five grams or more can feel closer to a mild prescription pain killer.
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