The conversation around kratom is as complex as the plant itself. For kratom to manifest in our society as a healing plant instead of a perceived dangerous drug, the science of kratom needs to become conventional wisdom. For the millions of Americans kratom has already helped, we can’t afford to spend 80 years digging our way out of fear-based propaganda, as was the case with cannabis.
Already the kratom community has accomplished a unity impossible within the simplistic narratives of popular media – our conversation does have to do with politics and policy, but does not fall within the narrow, “both sides” spectrum of left and right. We are laypeople who learn and communicate complex science. We have voices from those who have served in the military to those who have served time in prison, those who have suffered excruciating pain, and those who have come out of seemingly hopeless addiction. That united community pushed back on the DEA in 2016 to prevent American kratom consumers from being treated as criminals. October 13, 2022 will mark the 6th anniversary of the date the DEA officially rescinded its decision to list kratom as a Schedule 1 substance.
We can’t follow the formula of popular politics by deluding ourselves with a comic book narrative of good and evil. We can’t elevate falsehoods by unintentionally allowing them to flourish.
To get to a more accurate picture of reality, scientists follow logic, reason, and evidence. They don’t spend time on bad information based on fear and delusion from people who don’t have a basic understanding of their field. Science doesn’t claim “I’m right” and “You’re wrong”. Science is more likely to say “We don’t know”, “We’re looking at the data”, and “Here’s what the evidence tells us”.
In the short term, science sounds reasonable but uncertain. Social media crazies and politicos sound so sure of themselves, even as science paints a more accurate picture of reality. Science relies on logic and evidence, while greed, lies, and delusions are allowed to flourish on social media and in politics.
Even a successful lobbying machine will not withstand the long-term damage that is possible by a misinformation narrative overtaking a poorly-executed science-based narrative. A lie travels around the world before the truth gets its pants on, and so goes the “kratom is a dangerous drug” narrative.
This is why we have to be careful that we spread science, reason, and logic, instead of misinformation and anger, and I write this as someone who has made these mistakes.
By responding to bad ideas, you’re giving those ideas free advertising
We see a handful of bad takes on kratom in the news, on popular podcasts, and from government officials. Those takes are from sources with larger media platforms than the average person, and we should respond to them. That’s not who I’m talking about here.
By far the most frequent source of kratom misinformation I see is on kratom advocates’ own platforms. By replying, reposting, and/or commenting on every misinformed or prohibitionist take, a kratom advocate is using their platform, at least in part, to share bad ideas.
Most people with an anti-kratom stance have very few followers compared to those who are more knowledgeable about the benefits and responsible use of kratom. People who search for “kratom” on most social media channels will likely see a kratom advocate before they see a prohibitionist. But if the advocate posts misinformation, even to debunk it, the person trying to learn about kratom will be exposed to the ignorance, possibly as a first impression, and may be convinced by it.
Imagine you owned CNN. Would you give 12 of your 24 hours each day to feeding the trolls spouting anti-kratom propaganda? Or would you give that platform to people with experience consuming kratom responsibly, scientists and journalists who study kratom, and drug policy experts who will criticize harmful policy and talk about helpful policy?
None of us has the audience of CNN, but everyone with a blog, website, or social media account has a small audience. It’s beneficial to put good information in front of 400 or 4 million viewers, especially given the way things will go viral out of nowhere.
The social media business model is built on compulsive behavior. It’s like eating junk food. It tastes good in the moment, but it isn’t healthy in the long term, and it can easily turn into a bad habit.
Sharing good, science-based information is healthy for your followers, and you
Raw vegetables don’t taste as good as Quarter Pounders. Fast food laden with salt, sugar, and fat gives us a rush of dopamine, but as soon as it hits the digestive system, I know already I’ve made a mistake.
This is the same for a communications approach using science and reason vs. one using argument and bickering. Arguing provides a similar rush to fast food. We feel right, we know we have better information, we’re putting the smack down on somebody who is repeating a narrative that directly threatens the freedom and health of ourselves and many of our friends. But in the long term, this tactic doesn’t convince anyone – it doesn’t cure ignorance. It only strengthens it by making the ignorant person defensive.
Sharing evidence in a reasonable way doesn’t bring that dopamine rush, but it is spreading a more informed narrative. The ignorant person may reject it, but at least the right information is out there.
If you cook vegetables enough, eventually you’ll be able to prepare them in a way that makes them preferable to a Quarter Pounder. At Kratom Science, we try to present complex science in a very simple and digestible way so that anyone can read it.
Arguing with people who won’t listen is pointless
I’ve seen kratom advocates argue with family members of recently deceased relatives who are convinced, rightly* or wrongly, that their loved one died from ingesting kratom.
Grieving people are not generally in the position to be rational, to hear you out, to change their mind about what they think about their loved one’s death. Plus, you don’t have the information. You can’t have an evidence-based argument without even a toxicology report, especially with someone who isn’t in an emotional position to listen to evidence in the first place. They are likely to look at you as an awful human being who is upsetting their grieving process. Many deal with death by finding something to blame to gain some small type of control in their minds over an uncontrollable situation.
Even for those who aren’t in sensitive emotional states, pride keeps some from looking at anything rationally, especially if they still trust that prohibition helps instead of hurts, and would argue on the internet about it before putting any thought to it. Drugs are an easy thing to blame, even as science is learning that addiction is more about trauma than the pleasurable substance or activity that is the object of the addiction. The source of trauma is much harder and takes much longer to deal with than to target the drug.
Nobody likes to be told they’re wrong
“If you tell people they are wrong, do you make them want to agree with you? Never! For you have struck a direct blow to their intelligence, judgement, pride, and self-respect. That will make them want to strike back. But it will never make them want to change their minds.”– Dale Carnegie
Dale Carnegie wrote the above passage in his famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People. It was part of an argument against having any type of argument. Ninety percent of the time, Carnegie suggested, arguing changes no one’s mind. He pointed out that people do not tend to be reasonable and logical when attacked.
This is especially accurate with people on the internet, who generally may not feel like they owe you, a random stranger, a good-faith debate. And we’re talking about people who haven’t studied kratom to the extent that we all have. We’re talking about people who have heard of bad experiences in the news or from their husband’s cousin’s sister-in-law who is probably using illicit opioids secretly. You can’t expect them to be rational on a topic that is not common knowledge.
Yet we have to spread the science on kratom. Therefore, we have to deal with people where they are, not where we want them to be.
We can align with people who have had bad experiences with kratom to advocate for regulation
We know that the sure path to increasing harms associated with kratom will be to make kratom illegal.
Should kratom be outlawed, the “Iron Law of Prohibition” will take effect. Dealers of illicit kratom will have an incentive to make it stronger, since a stronger product takes up less space, and is therefore easier to conceal from authorities. In no time, fentanyl will be mixed in with the kratom supply, as it is with the rest of the illicit drug supply. Far more people will die from fentanyl overdoses from swallowing what they thought were kratom capsules.
We know that the path to reducing harms associated with kratom is in both regulation and education.
Kratom is unregulated enough as it is, with too much lead, contaminants, and adulterants showing up in the products of irresponsible vendors. We don’t have enough requirements for testing and safety information on the label. People are using kratom without understanding the risks, and this is leading to bad outcomes.
Proper regulation of kratom, real regulation that allocates funds for enforcement, is a perfect solution for both people who benefit from kratom and want to continue using it without being criminalized, and people who want to make sure the risks of kratom are mitigated.
The best example I’ve seen of cooperation, in the kratom world or anywhere, was between Mike Overstreet and Troylana Manson on Episode 19 of the Kratom Guy Show. Troylana lost her son to a multidrug overdose in which kratom was a significant factor in a drug interaction that also involved antihistamine, hydrocodone, and cocaine. The way kratom-drug interactions probably work is that the large amount of kratom (along with antihistamine in this case) blocks metabolism pathways of other drugs. This could explain why Aaron Manson died of respiratory depression that can be caused by a full opioid agonist like hydrocodone.
Troylana has experienced the worst kratom can do. But instead of advocating for prohibition of kratom and other substances, she advocates for harm reduction. Mike overcame heroin addiction using kratom. He’s seen the best it can do. Instead of arguing with one another, Troylana and Mike had a beautiful conversation about how to move forward and keep people safe, so going forward, more people can experience the benefits of kratom and while being fully educated on how to avoid its potential harms.
Despite their opposite, but deeply emotional experiences with kratom, Mike and Troylana were able to put aside the idea that kratom is either “all good” or “all bad” and have a conversation based on reason, rather than an argument rooted in anger and fear.
*People have died of ingesting too much water. Therefore, you can die from ingesting too much of any substance. Students of Toxicology 101 learn this quote by Paracelsus, the 16th century alchemist: “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison.” We’ve discussed here the problems with blaming kratom on these deaths. It doesn’t make sense as there is no mechanism of action established on how kratom would kill someone. As a partial opioid agonist, it apparently doesn’t cause respiratory depression. Deaths attributed to kratom alone have been the result of choking on the plant matter itself, which can of course happen with any substance; people die from choking on food all the time. Another death seemed to have been from a liver toxicity, very similar to ingesting a deadly amount of lead, a substance commonly found in kratom. Many people using opiates will lie, for obvious reasons, and friends of the deceased may not have access to toxicology reports, and assume kratom caused the death (very often you hear of a “husband’s cousin” who “died from kratom” . There are very obvious problems with coroners and medical examiners not only with kratom but across the board in how little resources go into dealing with unexpected deaths. Some coroners don’t have access to high-tech equipment, and there are so many legal but poorly regulated dietary supplements that labs cannot test for everything. Phenibut, tianeptine, and toxic levels of manganese have all been discovered as adulterants in kratom products. However, when a police sergeant in Tupper Lake, NY died, and was afforded enough public resources for testing for 234 substances, 233 were ruled out. Only an insane amount of 3500 ng/ml of mitragynine was found. It’s logical to assume whatever kratom product (probably extract) he was taking irresponsibly was the main contributor to his death. The point is, we don’t know how anyone died without more information, and often, the available information is not enough. Telling someone that their loved one did not die from kratom when they are convinced that’s what happened, rightly or wrongly, does absolutely nothing.