A popular cure for drug addiction causes users to relapse

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The leaf from a Southeast Asian tree called kratom, is being used in the United States as a natural painkiller and alternative substance to wean addicts off of drugs such as heroin. But the since the leaf affects the brain in similar ways as an opiate, former addicts who use kratom have relapsed and returned to heroin, which is cheaper and stronger than kratom.

SEE ALSO: Alarming state of drug abuse in the United States

Kratom is a tropical tree native to the Southeast Asian countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar. It has been used in these countries as a stimulant and herbal drug for decades. The Thai government passed the Kratom Act 2486 in the 1940s making planting of the tree illegal. Although it is banned in Thailand, kratom remains a popular drug in the region and is being smuggled into the United States from the country.

Kratom is mainly used as a tea or through chewing the leaf. The American Kratom Association says the leaf can be used to "safely alleviate pain, combat fatigue and help with the effects of anxiety and depression." Throughout the Untied States, the leaf is also used as a way out of addiction, although it can be addictive itself. While advocates say that the leaf is safe, studies show that kratom is linked to potential dangerous side effects including respiratory depression, seizures, and suicide.

The leaf is categorized as a botanic dietary supplement and listed as a drug of concern by the Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2014 the FDA banned the import of kratom into the Untied States and the leaf has been made illegal in Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming and banned by the U.S. army.

See how kratom is being used in Thailand:

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Kratom in Southeast Asia
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Kratom in Southeast Asia
NARWATHIWAT,THAILAND - SEPTEMBER 1: A Thai drug user cooks the popular cheap narcotic drink called 4 x 100,on September 1, 2011in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Translated as ' sii khun roi,' 4 x 100 is a mix of the illegal kratom leaf, cough syrup and Coca-Cola with added ingredients like tranquilizers and marijuana. Many unemployed young ethnic Thai Malay Muslims are becoming more embedded in daily substance abuse and a culture of drugs as they turn to substances such as 4 x 100, marijuana and methamphetamines to cope with daily life. In southern Thailand for the last 6 years there has been almost daily violence happening over a wide region which has claimed more than 4,000 lives. The on-going, low grade insurgency and violence is between Muslim separatists, and the Thai security forces in a country that is over 95% buddhist. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
NARWATHIWAT,THAILAND - SEPTEMBER 1: A 25 year old Thai Malay Muslim drug user (R) sits with other friends consuming 4x100, the popular cheap narcotic drink, on September 1, 2011in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Translated as ' sii khun roi,' 4 x 100 is a mix of the illegal kratom leaf, cough syrup and Coca-Cola with added ingredients like tranquilizers and marijuana. Many unemployed young ethnic Thai Malay Muslims are becoming more embedded in daily substance abuse and a culture of drugs as they turn to substances such as 4 x 100, marijuana and methamphetamines to cope with daily life. In southern Thailand for the last 6 years there has been almost daily violence happening over a wide region which has claimed more than 4,000 lives. The on-going, low grade insurgency and violence is between Muslim separatists, and the Thai security forces in a country that is over 95% buddhist. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
NARWATHIWAT,THAILAND - SEPTEMBER 1: Thai Malay Muslim drug users drink 4x100, the popular cheap narcotic drink, on September 1, 2011in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Translated as ' sii khun roi,' 4 x 100 is a mix of the illegal kratom leaf, cough syrup and Coca-Cola with added ingredients like tranquilizers and marijuana. Many unemployed young ethnic Thai Malay Muslims are becoming more embedded in daily substance abuse and a culture of drugs as they turn to substances such as 4 x 100, marijuana and methamphetamines to cope with daily life. In southern Thailand for the last 6 years there has been almost daily violence happening over a wide region which has claimed more than 4,000 lives. The on-going, low grade insurgency and violence is between Muslim separatists, and the Thai security forces in a country that is over 95% buddhist. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
NARWATHIWAT,THAILAND - SEPTEMBER 1: Thai Malay Muslim drug users drink 4x100, the popular cheap narcotic drink on September 1, 2011in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Translated as ' sii khun roi,' 4 x 100 is a mix of the illegal kratom leaf, cough syrup and Coca-Cola with added ingredients like tranquilizers and marijuana. Many unemployed young ethnic Thai Malay Muslims are becoming more embedded in daily substance abuse and a culture of drugs as they turn to substances such as 4 x 100, marijuana and methamphetamines to cope with daily life. In southern Thailand for the last 6 years there has been almost daily violence happening over a wide region which has claimed more than 4,000 lives. The on-going, low grade insurgency and violence is between Muslim separatists, and the Thai security forces in a country that is over 95% buddhist. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
NARWATHIWAT,THAILAND - SEPTEMBER 1: A 25 year old Thai Malay Muslim drug-user feels the effects after consuming 4x100, the popular cheap narcotic drink along with other friends on September 1, 2011in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Translated as ' sii khun roi,' 4 x 100 is a mix of the illegal kratom leaf, cough syrup and Coca-Cola with added ingredients like tranquilizers and marijuana. Many unemployed young ethnic Thai Malay Muslims are becoming more embedded in daily substance abuse and a culture of drugs as they turn to substances such as 4 x 100, marijuana and methamphetamines to cope with daily life. In southern Thailand for the last 6 years there has been almost daily violence happening over a wide region which has claimed more than 4,000 lives. The on-going, low grade insurgency and violence is between Muslim separatists, and the Thai security forces in a country that is over 95% buddhist. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
NARWATHIWAT,THAILAND - SEPTEMBER 1: Thai Malay Muslim drug users cook the popular cheap narcotic drink over a fire on September 1, 2011in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Translated as ' sii khun roi,' 4 x 100 is a mix of the illegal kratom leaf, cough syrup and Coca-Cola with added ingredients like tranquilizers and marijuana. Many unemployed young ethnic Thai Malay Muslims are becoming more embedded in daily substance abuse and a culture of drugs as they turn to substances such as 4 x 100, marijuana and methamphetamines to cope with daily life. In southern Thailand for the last 6 years there has been almost daily violence happening over a wide region which has claimed more than 4,000 lives. The on-going, low grade insurgency and violence is between Muslim separatists, and the Thai security forces in a country that is over 95% buddhist. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
NARWATHIWAT,THAILAND - SEPTEMBER 1: Thai Malay muslim drug users stir the popular cheap narcotic drink mixture on September 1, 2011in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Translated as ' sii khun roi,' 4 x 100 is a mix of the illegal kratom leaf, cough syrup and Coca-Cola with added ingredients like tranquilizers and marijuana. Many unemployed young ethnic Thai Malay Muslims are becoming more embedded in daily substance abuse and a culture of drugs as they turn to substances such as 4 x 100, marijuana and methamphetamines to cope with daily life. In southern Thailand for the last 6 years there has been almost daily violence happening over a wide region which has claimed more than 4,000 lives. The on-going, low grade insurgency and violence is between Muslim separatists, and the Thai security forces in a country that is over 95% buddhist. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
NARWATHIWAT,THAILAND - SEPTEMBER 1: A Thai drug user mixes the popular cheap narcotic drink called 4 x 100 on September 1, 2011in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Translated as ' sii khun roi,' 4 x 100 is a mix of the illegal kratom leaf, cough syrup and Coca-Cola with added ingredients like tranquilizers and marijuana. Many unemployed young ethnic Thai Malay Muslims are becoming more embedded in daily substance abuse and a culture of drugs as they turn to substances such as 4 x 100, marijuana and methamphetamines to cope with daily life. In southern Thailand for the last 6 years there has been almost daily violence happening over a wide region which has claimed more than 4,000 lives. The on-going, low grade insurgency and violence is between Muslim separatists, and the Thai security forces in a country that is over 95% buddhist. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
NARWATHIWAT,THAILAND - SEPTEMBER 1: A Thai Malay Muslim drug user stirs in the cough syrup as part of a popular cheap narcotic drink called 4 x 100 on September 1, 2011in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Translated as ' sii khun roi,' 4 x 100 is a mix of the illegal kratom leaf, cough syrup and Coca-Cola with added ingredients like tranquilizers and marijuana. Many unemployed young ethnic Thai Malay Muslims are becoming more embedded in daily substance abuse and a culture of drugs as they turn to substances such as 4 x 100, marijuana and methamphetamines to cope with daily life. In southern Thailand for the last 6 years there has been almost daily violence happening over a wide region which has claimed more than 4,000 lives. The on-going, low grade insurgency and violence is between Muslim separatists, and the Thai security forces in a country that is over 95% buddhist. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
NARWATHIWAT,THAILAND - SEPTEMBER 1: A Thai Malay Muslim drug user shows an illegal pill called 'mano one' which will be added to the popular cheap narcotic drink called 4 x 100 on September 1, 2011in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Translated as ' sii khun roi,' 4 x 100 is a mix of the illegal kratom leaf, cough syrup and Coca-Cola with added ingredients like tranquilizers and marijuana. Many unemployed young ethnic Thai Malay Muslims are becoming more embedded in daily substance abuse and a culture of drugs as they turn to substances such as 4 x 100, marijuana and methamphetamines to cope with daily life. In southern Thailand for the last 6 years there has been almost daily violence happening over a wide region which has claimed more than 4,000 lives. The on-going, low grade insurgency and violence is between Muslim separatists, and the Thai security forces in a country that is over 95% buddhist. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
NARWATHIWAT,THAILAND - SEPTEMBER 1: Thai Malay muslim drug users mix coke into the popular cheap narcotic drink on September 1, 2011in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Translated as ' sii khun roi,' 4 x 100 is a mix of the illegal kratom leaf, cough syrup and Coca-Cola with added ingredients like tranquilizers and marijuana. Many unemployed young ethnic Thai Malay Muslims are becoming more embedded in daily substance abuse and a culture of drugs as they turn to substances such as 4 x 100, marijuana and methamphetamines to cope with daily life. In southern Thailand for the last 6 years there has been almost daily violence happening over a wide region which has claimed more than 4,000 lives. The on-going, low grade insurgency and violence is between Muslim separatists, and the Thai security forces in a country that is over 95% buddhist. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
NARWATHIWAT,THAILAND - SEPTEMBER 1: A Thai Malay Muslim drug user breaks up the kratom leaf into a pan to form part of a popular cheap narcotic drink called 4 x 100 on September 1, 2011in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Translated as ' sii khun roi,' 4 x 100 is a mix of the illegal kratom leaf, cough syrup and Coca-Cola with added ingredients like tranquilizers and marijuana. Many unemployed young ethnic Thai Malay Muslims are becoming more embedded in daily substance abuse and a culture of drugs as they turn to substances such as 4 x 100, marijuana and methamphetamines to cope with daily life. In southern Thailand for the last 6 years there has been almost daily violence happening over a wide region which has claimed more than 4,000 lives. The on-going, low grade insurgency and violence is between Muslim separatists, and the Thai security forces in a country that is over 95% buddhist. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
NARWATHIWAT,THAILAND - SEPTEMBER 1: A 25 year old Thai Malay Muslim drug-user feels the effects after consuming 4x100, the popular cheap narcotic drink, along with other friends on September 1, 2011in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Translated as ' sii khun roi,' 4 x 100 is a mix of the illegal kratom leaf, cough syrup and Coca-Cola with added ingredients like tranquilizers and marijuana. Many unemployed young ethnic Thai Malay Muslims are becoming more embedded in daily substance abuse and a culture of drugs as they turn to substances such as 4 x 100, marijuana and methamphetamines to cope with daily life. In southern Thailand for the last 6 years there has been almost daily violence happening over a wide region which has claimed more than 4,000 lives. The on-going, low grade insurgency and violence is between Muslim separatists, and the Thai security forces in a country that is over 95% buddhist. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
NARWATHIWAT,THAILAND - SEPTEMBER 1: A Thai drug user adds the powder from an illegal pill called 'mano one' to the popular cheap narcotic drink, 4 x 100, on September 1, 2011in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Translated as ' sii khun roi,' 4 x 100 is a mix of the illegal kratom leaf, cough syrup and Coca-Cola with added ingredients like tranquilizers and marijuana. Many unemployed young ethnic Thai Malay Muslims are becoming more embedded in daily substance abuse and a culture of drugs as they turn to substances such as 4 x 100, marijuana and methamphetamines to cope with daily life. In southern Thailand for the last 6 years there has been almost daily violence happening over a wide region which has claimed more than 4,000 lives. The on-going, low grade insurgency and violence is between Muslim separatists, and the Thai security forces in a country that is over 95% buddhist. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
NARWATHIWAT,THAILAND - SEPTEMBER 1: A 25 year old Thai Malay Muslim drug user (R) sits with other friends feeling the effects after consuming 4x100, the popular cheap narcotic drink, on September 1, 2011in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Translated as ' sii khun roi,' 4 x 100 is a mix of the illegal kratom leaf, cough syrup and Coca-Cola with added ingredients like tranquilizers and marijuana. Many unemployed young ethnic Thai Malay Muslims are becoming more embedded in daily substance abuse and a culture of drugs as they turn to substances such as 4 x 100, marijuana and methamphetamines to cope with daily life. In southern Thailand for the last 6 years there has been almost daily violence happening over a wide region which has claimed more than 4,000 lives. The on-going, low grade insurgency and violence is between Muslim separatists, and the Thai security forces in a country that is over 95% buddhist. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
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