A popular cure for drug addiction causes users to relapse


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: