CALERA, Ala. (CIRCA) - Herbal substance Kratom is illegal in six states and Washington, D.C., and the substance has gotten a less than warm welcome from federal agencies.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had announced in 2016 their intent to make Kratom a schedule 1 drug, the same category as heroin, which could outright ban it in the United States.
The agency backed off soon after because of public outcry to reconsider.
But Alabama did not wait on the federal government to make a decision and made kratom illegal in 2016, and the state has proven just because one substance is banned, does not stop another substance from coming in and replacing it.
“Kratom, once the law went into effect, it basically disappeared. You can probably still find some in small quantities. Before it was at every gas station in this state. You’d walk in and it would be just racks and racks and racks. So now I won’t say it’s completely gone, but it’s not visual anymore," Paul Hayes, narcotics supervisor for the Alabama Bureau of Investigations, said.
Kratom is a plant from Southeast Asia that experts say is being used in the U.S. as an opioid substitute.
“You could just talk to people that were taking it on a regular basis and the desire and the need that they had for it really made it very clear that it had a high potential for addiction," Hayes said.
But kratom was not soon forgotten in Alabama after the ban went into effect. Caleigh Morris, who works in local Alabama smoke shop Calera Smoke and Vape Shop, said she often got requests for the substance after it was outlawed.
"The majority of our customers were people coming in and asking for kratom or where they could find it, who has it now since we don’t carry it anymore," said Morris.
She said the customers that came in asking for kratom were typically using the substance to help wean off of opioids or to help ease pain.
“It was mostly older people, our clients, and they really actually had back problems, actual problems that they were getting sick of getting prescribed pain medicine from their doctors," Morris said.
Morris said she supports legalizing kratom in the state because from what she saw, people were not using it to party or to get high, but to help manage pain.
“As long as there is pain and suffering in the world, people are going to be looking for ways to heal that and to help ease the pain a little. So I think if there is not kratom or there is not opioids, there is going to be something," Morris said.
And the next “something” has already hit the shelves in the state.
“There is a substance called tianaa which is the next kratom. It’s in gas stations now and its labeled and marketed as the new Kratom, so that’s the next thing, that’s the next battle we’ll have in the kratom corridor," Hayes said.
Morris said she has tried tianaa before.
“It feels very calming. It’s like a wam hug. It’s not like a high. It’s no mind high at all. It’s not mind altering at all. It’s just a body relaxant in my opinion," Morris said about trying tianaa.
"I believe that there are a few gas stations out here that carry it, and like I said, we used to but it’s too expensive," she continued.
The DEA told Circa the agency is still evaluating kratom and does not know when a scheduling decision will be made, but has kept kratom on their list of drugs of concern since 2011.
The Federal Drug Administration has also warned the public against using any products containing kratom.
Along with Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin have also passed laws against the substance.