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The Dangers of Legal Highs and Herbal Hazards

Nowadays countless mind and mood-altering substances are readily available over the counter, at gas stations, and in local head shops. Even though these are considered legal and marketed as safe alternatives, many provide similar, if not identical effects as real narcotics. They usually exist in a legal grey area, whereas they have not been researched to the extent necessary to make them illegal. The idea that something must be safe just because it’s legal and readily available can have a devastating impact, particularly for someone in recovery. The list of these substances is long and continually growing, however there are a few in particular that have taken a major presence throughout the country.

Piper methysticum, more commonly known as Kava, has gained significant attention over the past few years for its strong psychoactive properties. Kava bars, similar to traditional bars that serve alcohol, have sprung up all over the country making kava availability widespread. Kava, when consumed, can produce feelings of relaxation, stress-reduction, pain relief, and sedation. The health risks involved in taking kava comes from its potentially destructive effects on the liver. A 2002 report by the Food and Drug Administration warned that liver related injuries including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure, are all potential medical problems that can occur from kava use. There are several reports of people needing liver transplants, including a young woman in the United States who had no previous health problems. These negative effects on ones health has led to Kava being banned in Germany, Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands and the U.K.

Kratom, or Mitragyna speciosa, is a tropical evergreen tree that originates from Southeast Asia. It has recently skyrocketed in popularity due to the psychoactive compounds in its leaves, that when ground creates and opiate-like effect. Kratom leaves contain two components that act on different areas of the brain. When taken in larger doses users report more of a sedative effect, as opposed to a more stimulating effect when taken in smaller doses. Users report feeling euphoria, pleasure, increased energy, sociability, alertness, and a decrease in pain. According to the CDC, side effects of kratom can mimic those of traditional opioids including nausea, vomiting, constipation, and drowsiness. Kratom isn’t typically associated with overdose; however since there is no regulation or oversight in the kratom market, the potential for contamination of unknown substances remains a risk. Although legal and currently unregulated, the DEA has recently taken steps to criminalize the use and sale of kratom.

Many alcoholics and addicts will turn to the use of these substances because of their legal status as well as the perceived safety of something marketed so openly. One might think “if you can go get it right down the street at the corner store, it must be safe!” Unfortunately, this is an assumption that has led many back down the dark lonely road of relapse.

If you or someone you know is possibly struggling with addiction, please contact our admissions office at (877)-RECOVERY with any questions you may have.

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