The War on Kratom


Adam and Brett welcome returning guest Michael Swaim and first-time guest Marina Reimann to discuss the FDA’s shady war on Kratom!


What is Kratom?

Powder from a Southeast Asian tree in the coffee family is typically smoked, brewed in tea, or consumed in capsules. Much like khat and coca, it was historically consumed by chewing on the leaves for a mild stimulating effect and medicinal properties. Kratom produces a caffeine-like high in small doses and sedative effect at high doses, and people currently use it to treat a wide range of conditions such as chronic pain, mood disorders and opioid withdrawal.


So What’s the Problem?

3 to 5 million Americans have tried it in the past few years, according to the American Kratom Association (aka the AKA) and it has been listed as a “substance of concern” by the FDA for years. A new report from FDA says kratom acts like a prescription-strength opioid.

The explanation of the report is long and science-y and frankly pretty annoying, but here are some important takeaways: they shoot holes in the whole “it’s just a plant” argument (which is fine because it’s a dumb argument anyway; Deadly Nightshade is also just a plant and it has deadly in the name for a reason), but also try to justify their concerns using unpublished “computer modeling?” Which sounds like they don’t have enough actual evidence.

One interesting angle they took was to compare it to Imodium, an anti-diarrheal drug that people were abusing, taking it in absurdly high doses to get a methadone-like high. As this article points out, that’s exactly why the FDA claims to be cracking down on kratom: its potential for abuse and the small number of deaths allegedly linked to it (they aren’t). However, just like Imodium, the benefits to most users far outweigh the risks posed to people who abuse it, which is why we still have Imodium. But also that argument is kind of a slippery slope to jump on because the FDA did actually put restrictions in place for Imodium after stories of it being abused started circulating.

This is still a pretty ridiculous claim by the FDA, though. Case in point: The 40+ deaths they’ve “linked” to Kratom. As this article points out, in every case, the person who died had other substances in their system also, many of them illicit drugs with known fatal risks. It also includes a dude who was killed by a shotgun blast and a kid who committed suicide by hanging.


Benefits of Kratom

As this article details, the use of kratom for a lot of folks is not just as another painkiller, but as the only painkiller that works for their chronic pain. And often after whatever they’d been prescribed had stopped working or had harsh and unsustainable side effects. Personally, when I hear stories about kratom users, I think of how much I rely on cannabis for my mental health needs, and how without it (like if it were made illegal again) I really wouldn’t have another sustainable, gentle option that actually helped. Like so many of the folks in these stories, I have no desire to walk around in the “fog” caused by so many prescription drugs for so many people. SSRIs and other anti-anxiety medicines have changed a lot of people’s lives for the better, but they are notorious for not working or even making things worse for so many people, and painkillers are often even more extreme in their harsh side effects.

On that note: another important strain of anecdotes from the article is from users who found kratom after battling an opioid addiction (which often happened after years of taking opioids for chronic pain). You know, opioid addiction–that struggle that is literally killing huge swathes of working-class Americans right now. And it’s not irrelevant that kratom is significantly less expensive than an opioid habit. Kratom was a major help for a lot of these people in overcoming their dangerous and expensive addictions while still, for many of them, addressing their issues with chronic pain.


Listen to the episode for more information about the FDA’s war on kratom! And to get every podcast the Unpops Network produces, subscribe on Patreon. It’s just $5 per month! You can afford that, probably!




About the Author
Samantha Clarke is a writer, blogger and comedian who helps Adam Tod Brown out with the dirty work. You can find her own writing on her newsletter,, or buy her poetry books on