Signs advertising kratom outside of corner markets and gas stations line Eugene’s streets. The plant used to treat pain is centuries old, but its popularity is recent, with newfound usage and new concerns about a lack of regulation.
“Kratom is a plant in the coffee family native to southeastern Asia,” said Dr. Marc Swogger, a clinical psychologist researching kratom. “We found that people were reporting that kratom was useful for pain, anxiety and getting off of opioids.”
His research shows how kratom can cause similar effects to opioids, helping to wean people off of other opioids like Vicodin and heroin.
Neighborhood Market, a grocery store in Eugene, began selling Sunstone Organics’ kratom capsules a year ago. Cashier Gabby Grewal said people buy kratom from the store every day.
“A lot of people are transitioning from pain medication and using it for weaning off opioids,” she said. Grewal said kratom is popular with middle-aged and older people, and that she doesn’t sell very often to UO students.
However, the lack of regulations surrounding kratom makes it entirely legal in Oregon with no legal age requirement. UO freshman Quinn Spear said he used kratom often in high school, mixing it into his morning tea.
“They help with anxiety,” he said. “They would just keep me calm for pretty much the entire day.”
He said kratom is just as noticeable as the buzz a person feels after drinking coffee. “It’s the opposite of that. You get a tranquil feeling rather than a buzz,” he said. Spear said that he only took kratom in small amounts.
Maureen Jenne, a clinical director at Emergence Addiction and Behavioral Therapies in Eugene, said kratom “initially has stimulant properties and, as the person’s tolerance increases and they use more, then it has opiate-like impacts.”
She said more people have sought treatment for kratom addictions at Emergence recently.
“Sometimes people have used it hoping to avoid detection in urinalysis if they were in treatment, and then ended up discovering that it was just as addictive as other things that they’d been using,” she said.
Swogger said a minority of kratom users develop an addiction, but “if it’s being used as a substitute and a person has a substance use disorder, it’s not unlikely that they will become addicted to kratom.”
Joanna Bernstein, a first year Ph.D. …….