An opioid-like drink is masquerading as a wholesome alcohol alternative

Top view of Kratom powder in wooden bowl and spoon on wooden table, alternative medicine

When Krista Marquick discovered kratom, it filled a hole in her life that quitting alcohol had left — kratom is often served at specialized bars, so it provided a way to socialize with friends and unwind after work without, she thought, the risk of addiction.

Within a few months, Marquick found herself with a brand new addiction that left her feeling, as she put it, “out of control.” On bad days, she spent $80 on kratom. She bought $10 kratom drinks and $20 concentrated extracts, drinking them when she woke up, during her lunch hour and after work. Some nights, she wouldn’t be able to sleep because of withdrawals, leaving her house at midnight to get her fix.

“Your tolerance builds up so fast on kratom,” Marquick said. “So you’re constantly spending more and more money, and you’re having to use more and more kratom.”

Kratom is a drink extracted from a plant native to Southeast Asia that’s become increasingly popular in the US for its pleasant, alcohol-free buzz. It’s known to be an energy booster, mood enhancer and pain reliever. The product is sold online, in smoke shops, convenience stores and, perhaps most notably, at bars popping up around the country that sell a different plant-based beverage, kava. While kava doesn’t have the same addictive properties, the bars that sell it have become a common entry point to kratom for consumers.

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