• Hamilton Morris puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to controversial drug kratom. (SBS)Source: SBS
In the latest episode of 'Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia', Mr Morris goes deep into the world of the potentially lifesaving substance known as kratom.
Evan Valletta

16 Jan 2018 - 3:36 PM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2018 - 3:39 PM

Anyone that’s ever been on the warped merry-go-round of heroin addiction knows it’s a daily flirtation with sudden death. Anyone lucky enough to come through the other side of that addiction will tell you the process of withdrawal is akin to a seemingly endless mental, physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual death, without the actual dying part.

So it’s no wonder opiate addicts willing to do anything to get off the life-sucking substance are constantly looking for new ways to brave the withdrawal process without losing their minds and eventually caving. Methadone is one avenue, though more addicts end up just as addicted to the alleged "miracle cure" than not, and experience similarly heinous withdrawals when eventually kicking the "cure".

Recently, more and more are turning to a natural plant derivative to battle their heroin addictions. It’s known as kratom.

What on earth is kratom?

Karatom is a tree native to Africa and Southeast Asia, most known for its cultivation in Thailand and Malaysia. While the first documentation of the plant’s use dates back to 1836, it’s only been in recent times that Western countries have sought it out as a treatment for opiate addiction. In the Eastern world, the substance was used for the treatment of diarrhoea, depression, fever reduction, pain relief and, yes, opiate withdrawal. Kratom was banned in Thailand in 1943, though some believe it was for political reasons. It is also a prohibited substance in Australia.

Now, it’s believed that up to 70 percent of heroin addicts are turning to kratom as an unconventional means of getting clean. The leaves of the kratom tree are chewed, smoked or infused into a tea. Some experts consider the leaf a relatively harmless, barely addictive, lifesaving non-opiate that lessens withdrawals and cravings to an astounding degree. Others claim it is essentially a milder, addictive opiate that may cause unfathomable problems in the long run – problems about which the medical community still don’t have enough data to confirm either way.

What we do know is that post-heroin users tend to use kratom on a daily basis, over years, with only the rare intention to give it up. Also, those using a kratom regimen very rarely return to heroin, and end up once again functioning in society.

What happens when non-addict Hamilton Morris tries it out?

In the US, where tons of the stuff are imported from SE Asia on a daily basis, a heated debate exists among FDA experts and scientists who are pro- and anti-Kratom. As you can see from this map, the majority of the nation allows its use, and in cities like New York, you can even order it in drink form at various alternative bars. In this particular episode of Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, our fearless chemist visits one such establishment.

After witnessing Hamilton ingest the drink, it’d be hard to convince anyone that the plant isn’t a form of opiate. His entire person droops, his eyelids sag and he enters a mode that can only be classified as a "nod" (the state of half-sleep usually experienced by opiate users). His usually overactive brain seems to slow to a snail pace and his head flops around like rag doll.

That being said, Hamilton is in no way a heroin addict and kratom’s effect on dopers is entirely different. Heroin addicts under a kratom regime don’t claim to feel under the influence of an opiate, they merely claim to be healthy and normal enough to function in society.

As with any under-researched drug newly introduced into the Western world, the jury’s still out on whether kratom could turn into the new methadone. But as it stands, it can’t be denied that, considering the alternative, the exotic plant derivative is doing more good than harm. How we'll view kratom in a decade is anyone’s guess.


The kratom episode of Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia airs on Tuesday 16 January at 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND.


Missed the first episode of the second season? Watch it at SBS On Demand:

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