A Leaf of Faith (2018) - full transcript

This documentary explores Kratom, a botanical supplement that has been proposed as an alternative to today's opioid painkillers.

Many claim a supplement has freed them
from a life of prescription pain pills,

while others say it is a dangerous
unregulated substance.

It's called kratom.

What we're hoping to have today
is a meaningful discussion,

and we have, joining us, a
panel of kratom proponents,

documentary filmmaker, Chris Bell...

Why does
this always happen to me?

It seems like I always end up in the middle.

In my first film, Bigger Stronger Faster,

my brothers were both using steroids,
and I wasn't.

I was stuck in the middle of following
the rules, or being the best.

In my second film, Trophy Kids,

I ended up in the middle of anxious parents

living vicariously through their children's
sports dreams.

Pull your head out of your ass, dude,

Can you be any stupider? How dumb!

In Prescription Thugs,
I exposed Big Pharma...

- How many pills a day were you doing?
- Ninety.

...as well as my own addiction
to opioid painkillers.

See, the thing is, before I was a filmmaker,
I was a powerlifter

and I wasn't half bad.

Lifting gave me purpose.

I was a shy, chubby kid.

But when I started breaking records,

and lifting more than my older brother
Mad Dog,

people began to notice, and it felt good.

I even got my little brother Smelly involved.

At one point, we had so many trophies
from lifting,

that we'd just throw them in the garbage.

I no longer wanted to be like my heroes.

I just wanted to be the
strongest man in the world.

But what I didn't realize is, all
that wear and tear on the human body

comes with a price.

And, for me, that price was...


Shortly after Bigger Stronger Faster,

I had both of my hips completely replaced

due to a genetic condition.

My dad had hip surgery at 17.
So, it runs in the family.

This is a double hip replacement surgery.
And I'm only 35 years old.

Sounds scary, right? Well, not for me.

They told me I was going to
be walking the same day.

This is what they mean
by walking the same day.

I'm high on painkillers. So,
all I can picture is myself

all jacked and tan, in a Rocky montage,
making a comeback.

The more it hurt, the more pills I took.

But when I was about to turn that corner
and run up the stairs,

my brother Mad Dog died in a sober
living facility, at 37 years old.

After seeing my brother die, and knowing
that drugs were at the core of it,

you would think I would stop taking pills.

But at that point, it was too late.
I was addicted.

My life was going off the rails,
but I wasn't the only one.

It seemed like our whole country
was popping pills.

American account for the use of
approximately 99% of one specific opioid,

a powerful painkiller called hydrocodone.

Every day, 91 Americans die
from an overdose of opioids,

which include prescription
painkillers and heroin.

We know that four out of five new heroin users

started on prescription pills.

We saw more people die of drug overdoses

than die of car accidents.

In and around
Huntington, West Virginia,

28 overdoses occurred in one five-hour span.

The point that everyone is missing
is that we don't have an opioid epidemic,

we have a pain epidemic, and we're
just treating the wrong thing.

You've been doing a documentary about
all the different components

of addiction, of selling these pills,

and yet, you still got sucked into their web.

Yeah, exactly, that's how powerful it is.

But you are about as educated
about it as a person can be.

I think now I am.

During the making of Prescription
Thugs, the film was delayed,

and the funding got pulled,

and I didn't know how to handle it.

I relapsed and ended up back on pills.

They say you haven't made it in Hollywood
until you've been to rehab.

So, I went out to Malibu
to face my demons head on.

But after 90 days of rehab, and doing
everything that was asked of me,

there was one big glaring problem
that rehab couldn't fix:

I was still in pain.

I had kicked my addiction and was
back on the straight and narrow.

I began searching for alternatives
to relieve my pain.

So, after I got done with the opioids,

I was on Dr. Drew's show,

and he said, "Well, you should try Advil
and Tylenol in combination."

"That's going to be better than an opioid
for your chronic pain."

So, I said, "Okay." I start trying that.

Then I get a phone call from my friend
who lives in England,

who tells me he just had a kidney transplant

because of all the NSAIDs he was taking.

NSAIDs are non-steroidal

Things like the painkillers found
in Advil, Aleve, and aspirin.

So, what's the answer? Am I supposed to just
live with the pain?

Then I get a call from a familiar voice.

It's good to see you. I missed you, man.
I haven't seen you in so long.

- We haven't even talked in a while.
- What's up?

My friend Horshu said he'd discovered
the holy grail,

a natural painkiller that won't kill you,
called kratom.

- When did you start taking it?
- About nine months ago. Yeah.

- And how do you feel?
- I feel great.

Yeah, so we talked in Prescription Thugs,

you had "a massive, massive, massive stroke,"
in the words of your doctor.

- Does it help with that?
- It helped me immensely.

- How do you handle pain?
- I take kratom.

- How did you handle it before?
- Look, man, I would stand up,

I'd stand up, I'd walk like this.
You remember.

I'd be walking like this.

You know what I mean? Hunched
over for 20 minutes,

- you know what I mean? Walking slow.
- Yes, slowly...

Now I just stand up... Stand up, walk around.

You know, when that study came out,

- I was like, "65 wrestlers under the age of 50..."
- Yeah.

- ..."have died. And they blame steroids all the time, right?"
- Yeah.

It's not steroids. It's the wrong combination
of drugs.

It's probably alcohol with Vicodin,
with cocaine, you know what I mean?

I knew as long as I
stuffed myself with painkillers,

I couldn't feel it, and I
couldn't feel the pain.

And I would go as long as I could
until my body couldn't go anymore.

Yeah, Vicodin and vodka
were my closest friends.

- Wow.
- And my closest enemies.

Once I had the stroke, I refused to go back
to pain pills.

You know, before I had the stroke,

I was doing about 90 pain
pills a day for seven years.

And then when I had the
stroke, when I recovered,

I refused to go back to pain pills.
And I found kratom.

Horshu pointed us to Vegas to meet
his friend Kelly,

who's been selling kratom since 2010.

He owns one of the top kratom companies
in the country. I used to be into boats

and boatracing, and so forth,
and I was in an accident

where, you know, I broke my orbital,

and broke the right side of
my face in a boat crash.

When I went to the doctor, especially for
the orbital, there is nothing they can do.

So, they give me pain medication.
They give me Percocets.

And he gave me, I want to say 60 pills,
with three refills.

- Worst off, I'd need it for...
- Yeah, a week.

Yeah, a week maybe.

Maybe four or five days, maybe.

Like everybody else, I
started taking the Percs,

and they kinda become a habit for me.

Then you start thinking about, "Well, shit,"

"my day might not function quite as well"

"if I don't take this, I better take it."

It led to the point where now when I
wanted to stop, I was going to get sick.

Somebody had introduced me to kratom. I
was involved in the head shop industry.

I owned a couple of smoke shops at the time.

And introduced to kratom,

and it was a real easy transition
out of the Percocets.

What's so special about this stuff?
Why should we care about kratom?

You know, for one, because it's
been so helpful to so many people.

We know that it's been a medicinal plant
for hundreds of years.

There were tribes in Indonesia that used
to build their village

around a series of kratom trees,

because it was central to their way of life.

So, if people have been using this
for hundreds of years,

Why have I never heard of it?

Dr. Darshan Singh has been studying
the traditional uses of kratom

in his homeland of Malaysia
for over ten years.

I've been spending a lot of time
on kratom research in Malaysia,

and in Malaysia I'm known as Dr. kratom,

So, I'd been going in, trying to understand
why people use kratom.

If I were to make my own kratom tea
for personal consumption,

I would just have to go behind my house and
just pluck maybe like about 20 leaves,

just brew it, and I would just switch off
the fire,

and then allow it to cool down, and
then just consume it the whole day.

So, you guys don't have an
opioid crisis like we have...

Oh, we have opioid addiction problem.

People are using kratom to
self-treat opioid abuse,

alcohol abuse, and crystal meth abuse.

You can actually use kratom
to treat chronic pain.

And you can also use it to
treat opioid addiction,

because opioid addiction is
also associated with pain.

In traditional settings,
those who are using kratom,

they are not labeled or stereotyped
as drug addicts or drug users.

They do not engage in criminal behavior.

If you were to compare heroin or
morphine users on the street,

they do engage in risky behaviors,

they do commit crime, because they have
to support their addictive behaviors.

While kratom users, in traditional settings,

they use kratom for medicinal purpose.

And people living in Southeast Asia,

like from where I'm coming, Malaysia,

people have been using kratom
for over 200 years, okay?

And you need to make sure that you have

genuine distributors of
kratom in the United States.

If kratom is so great, then why
haven't I seen it on store shelves?

Probably 'cause you can't get it
at your local pharmacy or GNC.

For now, you have to venture
into your local smoke shop.

And that's not usually
where I get my medicine.

So, this is more what I would picture,
like, a supplement to look like.



Happy kratom.

I was in the army for six years, and I have
friends with PTSD, who...

They give them this drug and that drug,

and they all have bad side effects,
and they get hooked on them.

But they can use this, not get hooked on it,

and not have all the bad effects.

I'm not going to say it's
going to cure it 100%.

But it helps them live day-to-day
without having an outburst,

or having a flashback.

- It just lets them have a normal life.
- Yeah.

I work seven days a week,
and my feet, trust me, they kill me.

And then I take it, and
after, like, half an hour,

it's a different feeling. I
don't feel that pain anymore.

And it makes it easier for
me to go on with my day.

Okay, so people take kratom

because they want to self-medicate.

But before I try it, I wanted to
talk to an expert on this stuff.

So, I found Dr. Schoenwetter.

He has a lot of patients come to him
to ween off of opiates.

And often times, he recommends kratom.

He's also been tracking the progress
of over 100 of his patients

that are taking the plant.

There are so many compounds within the plant,

that the plant itself is a virtual pharmacy.

The beauty of this, of course,
is that you don't need me

to write it on a piece of paper.

You can just get it yourself.

So, it's a great backup tool if you
need something with a little more

oomph than leaf.

There's a thing called affinity,
and a thing called activity.

Affinity is how much substance
will stick to a receptor.

So, if you can imagine having superglue
on your finger,

and touching a piano key...

...you've got a very high degree of affinity.

But activity... Even
though you're stuck to the key,

you may not be able to
press the key very loud.

Kratom seems to have a high affinity

for some of the opioid receptors,
but it has a ceiling

and so, it has a limited activity.

It's not dangerous. But heroin,
or a strong opiate,

can push the key to make it really loud.

Whereas buprenorphine and kratom aren't able
to make it as loud.

They're stuck to the key, but they
can't make it play as loud.

I'm taking it today

because I've had problems with arthritis
and a knee effusion.

So, I'm able now to get off the walker,

and get off the offloader knee brace,
and I'm back to myself.

So, tell me how you came across kratom.

I got introduced to it as the guy

who was putting gas in the car.

My wife had a migraine headache.

She said, "Well, I'll go dig up
something here at the station."

At that time, a lady of the evening
was stepping in.

And reached behind by the cigarettes,

and alcohol, and pulled out a packet
of kratom.

My wife immediately said, "What's that?"

The kind lady said, "It makes a lot
of the aches and pains just go away."

Karen says, "I'll take one."

Got in the car and said, "Phil,
what do you know about this?"

I know nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I drove on. We headed south, and
about 65 miles later, she said,

"Phil, the headache's gone."

I said, "Really?" I said, "Do you feel drowsy,
dopey, sleepy?"

"No, I want to drive down."

Have you seen a lot of
side effects with kratom?

Gastrointestinal is the
predominant side effect.

I took a whole bag myself
just to push the limits,

to see if I was giving anyone a toxic dose.

I got constipated.

- That's about it?
- That's it.

Dr. Schoenwetter assured
me that kratom was safe.

But let's check out the science.

Went to pharmacy school to understand
what it is about drugs

that can make us heal, or can hurt us.

This is Dr. Chris McCurdy.

He is a professor at the
University of Florida,

and the world-leading expert on kratom.

We kind of relate the abuse
potential of the plant itself,

kind of similar to that of coffee.

And it's interesting, 'cause
it's in the coffee family.

And so what we've done is
systematically gone through,

as I mentioned, looking at
the individual compounds,

and started taking out certain alkaloids

that we thought might be responsible
for that effect.

And we've got down to a modified extract

that didn't show any side effects on its own.

What's different about kratom

is the fact that it not only interacts
with that new opioid receptor,

it also interacts with dopamine receptors.

So, when you activate dopamine systems,

you feel pleasurable, you feel good.

We ran the most comprehensive target screen
on it

that's ever been published, and we came back
with this profile

that says serotonin, dopamine,
alpha-adrenergic, and opioid.

And I was like, "Holy cow,
this is maybe the one drug

that could really treat opioid addiction

in a single chemical entity.

There may be a cure for the pain.

We think we're well on our way.

We get these mice addicted to morphine

if we give them a antagonist, Naloxone,

they will go into full withdrawal.

What we call "wet dog shakes,"

just like when a dog gets out of a pond
and dries itself off,

- but these animals aren't wet.
- Yeah.

They'll chatter their teeth. You
can literally hear them, the mice.

And then they'll have paw tremors.

Most of the animals don't have very severe
withdrawal after methadone,

but the issue with methadone is
they've continued to lose weight.

And so, it seems that the methadone

is taking over their normal
innate behavior to want to eat

versus the animals that we habituate to
morphine, and then switch over to kratom.

They return to eating normally.

And their body weight comes back to
what it was when we started with them.

Or, a little bit above, which
is where you'd wanna be,

'cause we're using these animals
in their growth phase.

As a scientist studying it,

- do you try it yourself?
- I've never tried it.

We've brewed teas in the lab,

but from the science standpoint, I
don't want to be dated or biased

in my opinion of it.

- Have you ever tried it?
- Yeah, I have.

- And what was your effects?
- Mild mood elevation.

And I'm not in pain, so it's hard to comment
on any analgesic effects.


Kratom represents a great starting point

for developing new, safer pain relievers

to replace the opioids that we have now
on the market.

And also, potential implications for treating
mood disorders like depression and anxiety.

But these are a bit ratty-looking.

Does it smell?

- Smells like leaves.
- Yeah, a little bit. Yeah, wow.

- So, that's all it is, huh?
- Yeah.

And this is the mitragynine.

So, that's what it looks
like, it's just a powder.

So, what you do is you make it, and
then you just run tests on it?

Yeah, we run tests in cells,
and we run tests on animals, so...

And we try to extrapolate from that to humans,

but of course, there's limits to that.

So, this is what it looks like when it
still has the chlorophyll impurities.

- It's green like the leaf.
- Yeah.

Well, what's your goal? What
do you wanna do with it?

My goal is to make all these analogues

and try to come up with a better version
of the compounds

that are out there in the plant itself.

And eventually, bring that to market
as an FDA-approved drug...

- Sure.
- ...to replace oxycodone

and the strong painkillers.

I mean, I think there's a place for
both, you know, new pharmaceuticals

that we develop synthetically, starting from
the kratom alkaloids,

and also for kratom itself to be legal.
There's no reason they can't co-exist.

'Cause I really think they're addressing
different issues.

This is Kratom 101.

Kratom comes from the
plant Mitragyna speciosa.

It's a plant in the coffee family
that grows in Southeast Asia.

The kratom plant has been chewed, ground up,
or drank as a tea

for over 2,000 years in traditional
and religious rituals,

with zero history of fatal poisonings
or deaths,

and very little known abuse.

Kratom is made up of over 40 alkaloids.

What are alkaloids? Alkaloids are the active
ingredient in the plant.

Caffeine is an alkaloid of coffee or tea.

The active alkaloids in kratom that are
responsible for its health effects

are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.

The way the plant is set up, at low doses,
it works like a good cup of coffee.

At high doses, it works like
a mild opioid painkiller.

These alkaloids affect what is called
the Mu Opioid Receptor.

That's in your brain. What else does it do?

Well, nothing that's actually been
studied on humans,

but it's been reported
to lower blood pressure,

relieve pain, boost metabolism,

improve your immune system, ease anxiety,

help with addiction, eliminate stress,

prevent diabetes, induce healthy sleep,

and improve sexual energy.

These statements have not been evaluated
by the FDA. We were talking about, what,

I think we say, kratom?

- Yeah, yeah.
- It's called kratom.

I'm gonna take some right now.

It takes, like, an hour to kick in, and so...
And this is a very mild dose.

It is 12:23. At 1:23, I'm going to start
asking weird questions.

Comedian Shane Mauss used kratom
to help him after a nasty accident.

About three years ago, I was out hiking.
Best shape of my life.

And I jumped off a thing
that was much too high.

And I broke both my heels,
one of them exploded.

Had to crawl down a mountain for a few hours.

That's doctor's words, is that it exploded.

I was like, "Really? That's your diagnosis?"

Says my heel exploded.

- They must have had you on opioids, right?
- They did, yeah.

I remember the day I got
my first shot of morphine,

and right away, I was like, "Whoa! I get it."

"I get why people like this."

I don't understand how
both of my feet are broken

and this is the best I've ever felt
in my entire life.

I don't see how that's a legal thing.

This is all pretty numb in here.
It's coming back.

It feels better all the time.

The reason why I'm wearing these
baby-skinned bootsies

is because my girlfriend
picked them out for me.

And she controls the puss distribution.

I was just complaining about my dumb foot
to a bunch of comics,

and they were like, "Oh, you should go
to the kratom bar,"

and I was like, "What's that?"

They're like, "Oh, it's this...

It's supposed to be good for pain relief,

and it's some natural thing.

And you can go to a bar and drink it."

And I found out that it's legal, and I
was like, "Eh, it's probably no good."

Roots and leaves in a traditional bilo cup.

That's Komodo. That's our bestseller.

Earthy notes
with an oaky finish, huh?

Oh, that was bad. Ugh.

Earthy notes means
it tastes like dirt.

But after about 30 minutes, I began noticing
that I was more focused,

more alert, and more important, out of pain.

And all of a sudden, I could walk
like a normal person.

Like, I hadn't walked so
well since my accident

in two-and-a-half years, or whatever it was
at that point.

And I was like, "This is amazing.
What is this stuff?"

There was one other place, a head shop
in Chicago, which sold it in 2006.

Then we started. You know, we were looking
for different herbs.

That's what we sell here, raw indigenous herbs
and beverages.

And then we try kratom, and people are like,

"Hey, what was that stuff you had?"

And we started ordering it.

You're basically just grinding raw leaf...

- put it in water, or juice, or whatever,
- Yep. Kava.

- And yeah, kava.
- Kava root.

Just making drinks, right?

It's as raw as you get,
it's raw as you get.

What's it do for you?

It's, like, a calm energy you can
get, just a focused, clear mind.

It's relaxing, but it's stimulating
at the same time.

It's nice to come here and have a place to go
instead of going to the bar.

- Exactly, just somewhere to go, mellow. So...
- Yeah.

How often do you come here?

Um, I come here kind of every day.

I used to take Adderall.

I don't take it anymore. I took it all through
growing up and stuff.

Yeah, it just takes the edge off in general,
you know.

If you're feeling kinda tense, which
I usually am for whatever reason.

Wow, kratom looks like a game changer.

But then I turned on the news, and things
started looking a little different.

I should have known, if something sounds
too good to be true, it probably is.

...Feds gearing up for a kratom crackdown.

Don't know the drug?

You should. You can actually
buy it in stores right now.

It comes in
pills, powder, and liquid.

And in one month, the DEA is ordering kratom
off all store shelves,

putting it on the same level as heroin.

Kratom can be purchased
over the counter right now,

but in a month, it'll be illegal.

Dave, right now it looks like I'm holding

a vitamin supplement, but a month from now,

this will look an awful lot
like felony possession.

On August 30th, 2016,

the DEA issued a notice of
an intent to ban kratom.

The FDA has decided

it's in Schedule I, therefore,
because it has no medical value,

there is a high potential for abuse.

And most importantly,

we're now getting data from
folks around the country,

that people are dying from kratom overdoses.

They cited 15 deaths

and over 600 calls to poison control centers,

which deemed it a national health emergency.

- Freeze!
- Hey, guys, guys, it's only vitamins.

The DEA said they wanted
no public opinion on the matter.

But we live in the era of
Twitter and Joe Rogan.

And the Internet responded.

And apparently it helps a lot of people
that have heroin addiction problems

and opioid addiction problems.

And now, all of a sudden,
people are going to have to go

right back to finding
whatever they used to take.

Go to the link below to find your senator
and drop them an email tonight.

But the worst thing the DEA said to me was,

where they noted that their biggest concern
with kratom

was the fact that some people were using it
as an alternative to heroin and opioids.

No fucking shit.

I'm Kristin Jacobs, mayor of Broward County...

But not everybody is so pro-kratom.

Meet Kristin Jacobs.

She's on a mission to ban kratom in Florida.

And it looked like she was doing
a pretty good job.

Broward State
representative Kristin Jacobs

even compares it to heroin.

So, I think it is a tragedy what's happening
in this country, the addiction.

And the stigma that's associated with it,
and the cost of recovery.

And the horrific withdrawal
that you go through.

It's a horrible, horrible
thing to have to experience.

I promised you that by today,

I would basically send around a blizzard
of information

as many of you have not heard
of the word kratom before.

To me, the effects of kratom mimic the effects
of opioid drugs.

This is not prescribed.

This has not been tested by the Food and Drug

In detox, several people offer kratom.

I will tell you, it is harder to
detox somebody off of kratom,

than it is to detox somebody off of heroin.

And then they also say
that it is not addictive.

It's no more addictive than a cup of coffee.

But when you talk to doctors and you talk
to the scientists,

and you talk to those epidemiologists

that have been following this drug
and the claims of others,

you see that, in fact,
those claims are not true.

And then you start to talk
to people who've used it,

- people who've lost loved ones too.
- Sure.

And their stories are significantly different.

Is there a way to keep this on the market
while we research it more?

You know what, I understand when
someone's addicted to a drug,

they don't want someone to
come take the drug away.

The pain of recovery

and withdrawals from any drug is
a horrific thing to go through,

- and it's a horrific thing for any family to see.
- Sure.

The fact that those that are using it,

will tell you that it's not addictive

and they can get off at any time,

that's the voice of
addiction telling you that.

Generally, what happens is

the money that you need to buy those drugs
soon runs out,

and so you start finding
other ways to find dollars.

You may take it from your family
or other easier opportunities...

I haven't read anything about that.

I've researched this every single day
since we started this project.

I haven't heard people stealing money or doing
anything, like, illegal,

to get this drug.

Now, that's unfortunate, that's unfortunate.

'Cause I believe you'll
talk to someone tomorrow

that has, that you'll
interview that did just that.

He was stealing from the family.

He'd already ripped me off
for, you know, 400 bucks,

taken my debit card,

and he drove to the top of that overpass

which was just a two-minute drive.

He got out of the car, he
walked across the street,

to the south-bound side,

took off his sandals and dove head first.

Ian Mautner's autopsy report

showed an unknown amount of
what's called mitragynine,

the active ingredient in kratom.

Also listed, a number of antidepressants.

Linda believes it was Ian's addiction
to kratom

that ultimately sent him over the edge.

He was the kind of kid
that I could trust.

He always told me everything.

- We were super, super close.
- Mm-hmm.

And he invited me to the kava bar.

He was spending a lot of money there,
like about 50 bucks a day.

And when I went there, I
didn't know what kratom was.

You know, I had a drink...

A couple of times I went down there
and had a drink.

I actually called my sponsor

and I said, "You know, I tried this stuff.
Ian's doing this a lot."

And she said, "You need to be careful,

you know, because that doesn't sound good."

- So, how long have you been sober for?
- For 22 years now.

- Congratulations. That's amazing.
- Thanks.

And I said, "Ian, if you're doing drugs,
this is really bad",

because it can trigger the brain,

and set off things, you know, like
bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

And he said, "Mom, I'm not doing drugs."

You know, and it was... It became like
fighting that was going on between us.

I mean, he'd spend hours in the bathroom
picking his face,

and one time the mirror even came off.

You know, the bathroom wall detached.

And why do you think he was picking his face?
Like, what was he doing?

We thought it was meth.

Like, sometimes he'd be so sedated

that his eyes would roll back in his head.

And he'd talk to me and he'd go, "Mother..."

- You know, and he'd nod off.
- Yeah.

- And that sounds more like a heroin...
- Heroin...

Nodding off on, like, pills or something
like that. That's kinda very similar.

More important, you know,
important for parents,

- he was on medication as well, right, for...
- Yes.

- Psychological issues, right? So...
- Yes.

If you're on medication and you're taking
something that affects your brain,

then we're really, you know, kinda playing
Russian roulette there.

You don't know what you're
getting into at all.

I've been accused of everything,
from, you know, on blogs,

from kicking my son out of the house
because he was gay.

You know, that's...

What's that got to do with it, you know?
That came out in therapy.

This was a different person.
This was addiction.

This was living in my house,
and I couldn't have that.

You don't put any other stuff in your drink?

- It's kava and kratom, right?
- It's as raw as you get.

Because Linda Mautner told me that you guys
lace the drinks.

And that's what made her son, you know,
jump off a bridge to commit suicide,

which is a very tragic story.

Well, Linda Mautner is consistently incorrect.

I knew him personally. I just see a mother
trying to make sense

- out of something senseless. It doesn't make sense.
- Yeah.

But his cause
of death wasn't kratom.

She gets to go on the news,

you know, sympathetic media, for
whatever reason, I don't know.

I don't know whose behind it, or what.

- But she gets to say whatever she wants to say.
- Mm-hmm.

And you know, it's out there.

So, kratom has a PR problem.

Look, she told us... She was like,
"Well, you know, he died from kratom."

"Uh, you sure?" Well, the first time
he checked into drug rehab,

he had opioids in his system,

the second time he checked into drug rehab,

he had methamphetamines in his system.

And he jumped off a bridge and killed himself.

I mean, God bless her, but it's like, "Ma'am,

your son didn't die from kratom."

I went from smoking a
pack of cigarettes a day,

drinking 20 Red Bulls a day,
doing 90 pain pills a day,

snorting seven grams of cocaine a day,

banging a ton of porn stars a day...

I don't want to do anything, none of that.

But, here's the thing, I am in so much pain
when I wake up.

But then I found kratom.

And my pain level, like I said,
went from a nine to a three.

There was an infant born with total addiction,

so they were in withdrawal,

And the mother said the only thing that
she had ingested

was the kratom.

But luckily, she had some of her kratom
with her.

And so, they sent a sample to us,

and we found that the actual kratom sample

was adulterated with the hydrocodone.

I mean, in Sweden, there was definitely
a bunch of deaths

because of this laced product
with O-Desmethyltramadol,

which is a very potent synthetic opioid.

And it seems pretty clear

that the deaths are from that component,
and not from the Kratom itself.

He has not died because of kratom,
you see. As I said just now,

people have been using kratom in
Southeast Asia for more than 100 years.

There have not been any mortality cases.

Nobody has died using Kratom in Malaysia.

The only deaths listed

as associated with kratom
are polydrug situations,

where a person was on multiple other illicit

and/or prescription drugs when they died.

It's not new, it's not synthetic.

And the media is attaching onto this as new.

It's new to the United
States in the last 20 years,

but it's been used in Southeast Asia

over hundreds and thousands
of years, culturally,

for medicinal purposes.

And yet, here we have the DEA

saying that there's no medicinal use
from this plant,

when every single one of our members
is getting medicinal benefit...

What is the problem with kratom?

Why is it so controversial? Why are
people so up in arms about it?

That could go in so many different directions.

And I think primarily what the problem is,

it is competition

to some of the largest money-making industries
in the United States.

And I think that with the
media and the propaganda

that they've been allowed
to spew to the public,

which is based on exaggeration.

People are believing that it is something
like illegal heroin,

which is, to me, the biggest joke,
and yet, the saddest joke

that I've ever heard.

It's not the kind of thing that you crave

and you feel like you have to go out
and seek.

Because it's not the kind of thing
that you can escape your life from.

That's the major difference to me.

When I was on opioids, I
was using them to escape.

It was a miserable existence.

I was in my 30s. All my friends were getting
married and having children,

I never was able to have children.
I was sick for ten years.

We are people that just want a natural
alternative to prescription drugs.

And this is what works for us.

Also, interestingly, about 60% of our members

have never even experienced
addiction in their lives.

They're just looking for an alternative
to pain medications.

I figured if I'm going
to continue to use kratom,

I should probably consult with the people
that matter the most.

My brother Smelly recently started using
kratom as a pre-workout supplement.

I like it, and I like the
feeling of it. It felt pretty good.

What kind of feeling
do you get from it?

It just kind of almost gave me,
like, a sense of calmness,

and maybe a little bit better focus even.

Yeah, I wanted you guys to try it

because I didn't want anybody to be scared
of what I was taking.

- Like, it was one of the main reasons...
- Right.

Uh, has it ever caused any
concern for you, or...

It doesn't seem that powerful

to have a negative impact on your life.

You know, I guess that's what
we're talking about here

when we're talking about addiction,

like who cares if you're addicted
to lifting weights

if it doesn't hurt anybody else.

When you hurt your elbow,
you're kind of, you know, beat up.

How do you cope with pain?

I usually just, I mean, I
usually just deal with it.

You know, so, for now, I'm trying to actually,
like, listen to the doctors and stuff,

and use my arm a little bit less.

And try not to do any upper body exercises
at all.

You know, as long as I get back
to it at some point,

it is what I love to do.

So, whether I have to have
a surgery or whatever,

I'll deal with it at that point.

You know, I've had one knee replacement,
two hip replacements.

They've been fine, I have no problem.
I was riding my bike,

between five and seven miles a day, you know,
and everything.

And as I was going to hand a
guy a bag, I trip over a curb,

and I get this groin pull somehow.

They gave me some hydrocodone
to take, you know.

And that was helping.

I'd take two in the morning, two
in the afternoon, two at night,

but it was still really painful.

Then you had given me some kratom, I think
it was... I can't remember exactly,

but from April on, I was fine. I
wasn't taking the hydrocodone anymore.

I was taking that,

and I was back to riding my bike.
I rode my bike all summer.

And so, I've been taking two a day,

it doesn't make me high.

I don't realize that I took it.

But I'm always happy, I'm
always in a good mood.

I've never really been a person
that was depressed or anything.

I mean, I hate to be cynical,

but like everything in this country
is run by money.

The government's not going
to do their research,

and the pharmaceutical companies
aren't going to do the research,

unless there's something in it for them.

If there's something in it for the government,
they'll do it.

If there's something in it for the
pharmaceutical companies, they'll do it.

But if there's nothing in it for either
one of them, they won't put up the money.

So, if you come up with something like that,

you've got to come up with the studies.

What do you have going on with you?

Well, it's an entrapped nerve in my back

that's making the pain go all the way down
into my leg,

make me lose movement in my leg.

And it's, like, 24/7 pain.

Unless I'm sleeping, I don't know I have...
I don't have any pain.

Other than that, I have pain all the time.

And I don't think people shouldn't
try something for pain.

I just don't think they should take
more than they should.

And I think all of it, the kratom and all,

I think they're trying to stop it

because they're probably trying to make it,

so they can sell it and make money.

Why are you afraid to try it?

- For pain? Um...
- Mm-hmm.

I don't know, I just, I just never tried
any kind of...

anything, and so...

But if the doctor gave
it to you, you'd try it?

I probably would.

So, my mom was afraid to take Kratom.

But my friend's mom didn't hesitate.

This is Tony from the gym.

His mother started taking kratom
to get off her hydrocodone,

and a lot of the other pills
she's been prescribed.

- You're 89 years old, huh?
- Yeah.

- You look fantastic.
- Well, thank you.

Like a spring chicken, 89 years old, come on.

Some days I feel like it.

- You started taking kratom recently, huh?
- Yes.

- Because I'm on a lot of medicines.
- I'm all ears.

I'm on about 15 different medicines.


Benecol, Amlodipine,

hydrochloride, hydrocodone,

Prezolon, take calcium,

the Prolia injection, twice a year.

I don't know a lot of people who
take as much medicine as I do.

I have a sister, 91, and
she takes six pills day.

- I'm just tired of pain.
- Yeah.

And if anything else can help me,

without me taking all of these medicines,
you know, I'd try.

The DEA is trying to
make it a Schedule I drug.

You know, on par with heroin,
and these other drugs.

But, you've taken it, you don't
see it that way, do you?

- Doesn't make you high?
- No, no.

I do what I want to do.

- Like always.
- What kind of stuff do you do every day?

Everything I want to.

If it's nice outside, I'm outside in the yard
or whatever,

because if I'm just sitting, it's worse.

If I move around or whatever,
then, you know, I feel better.

- If you're moving, you're not in pain?
- I'm in pain, yeah.

But I just learn to... I just don't
give into all of it.

When the government tries
to ban something people want,

the people band together
and march on Washington.

Kratom advocates were able to get
120,000 people

to sign a petition to keep Kratom legal.

This march was the last-ditch effort
to get the DEA

to put the brakes on a Schedule I ban.

We are Kratom!

We are Kratom!

When I went out to DC for the
Kratom march, I didn't know what to expect.

But I met some very fascinating people
from all walks of life.

And we had one thing in common, pain.

What do you guys hope comes out of this?

That I get to keep Kratom in my life,
because it saved my life.

I was pretty much suicidal

before my doctor... I went in there suicidal.

I got pregnant actually, and I was sent
to the methadone clinic,

I had to have my daughter on methadone,

which was a complete disaster pretty much.

It's a very emotional subject for me,

I watched my daughter go through withdrawal
for six months afterwards.

Kratom saves lives!

I was on suboxone for four years straight.

And they had led me to believe that suboxone
was a cure to addiction.

They actually literally told me that,
this will cure you.

Three years ago, I was bedridden.
Every day was a struggle.

And now with kratom, I can live my life.
I can come here.

I can do things without
being in so total pain.

- I actually ended up having a grand mal seizure...
- Oh, wow.

...from taking tramadol.

And I came across Kratom.

I went from sitting in a rocking chair,

weeping and saying goodbye to my daughter

because my wife and my daughter
were going to leave the next day.

To being able to actually finish up
my service,

and I still have my family.

I was on fentanyl for six years,

and thanks to kratom, I no
longer have to do that.

I can choose to help myself naturally.

And I have for a year been off fentanyl.

I had about 15 years of my life
go by in a blur of opiates.

And then, as I was kinda coming off it,

dealing with... and just dragging,

kratom just gave me the energy to pull my life
back together.

And stop the cravings of opioids.

OxyContin for breakthrough, oxycodone for
breakthrough, 15 milligrams of tramadol.

- So, you were addicted to these...
- Oh, yeah, yeah.

Yeah, I was going through withdrawal symptoms
when it stopped.

And Kratom actually helped you get off of...

Yeah, I reduced all of my pain medications.

I was on tramadol for a long time,
for over seven years.

You go through a lot of pain? You're
a professional football player, right?

Yeah, it's given me my life back.

What is this DEA ban going
to mean to kratom users?

It turns them into criminals,

and drug dealers, and drug addicts,
and drug...

It will mean, for a lot of people,
depression and suicide.

So, I was deployed constantly.
I was home for a couple of months,

I'd get deployed again.

I got out in 2007

with PTSD so bad that every
time the phone rang,

it set me off.

I couldn't check the mail,
I wouldn't leave my house.

- I lost myself because of medicines.
- Me too.

I lost myself because of my service
to the country.

I lost everything I was.

But now I'm with Kratom, I've been given
a new lease on life.

Drew Turner spent nine years deployed
for the US Navy.

He was honorably discharged
when his shooting hand

was smashed by a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay.

He suffers from severe
PTSD and Meigs Syndrome,

which causes uncontrollable facial tics,
and there's no cure for it.

Kratom is the only thing that works.

Without it, his life is a living hell.

I wanted something where I
can get rid of the pain,

and feel a little bit better,

but at least have some
energy to get my life back.

My wife would help me get
out of bed in the morning.

I would go to the couch.

And if she went into her office that day,

when she came back, I was in the same place
she left me.

You know, I may have accidents.

- I couldn't get to the bathroom.
- Wow, really?

I got to a point where
it was pretty much just hopeless.

When you hit that point of hopelessness,

there is really two
directions I could have gone.

- Keep trying, or end it all.
- Yeah.

And I'll tell you one thing
I'm not going to be,

is one of those 22 a day.

Twenty-two veterans a day commit
suicide because they are in pain.

Whether it's emotional or physical,

many experts say your body can't tell
the difference.

This is Peter Guidry.

He runs a bicycle rehab program
for veterans.

They've been combating PTSD and addiction

with bicycles, natural foods,
and herbs like kratom.

I feel forgotten, it's why we call it
"Forgotten, not gone."

It was just the honest truth, you know.
They forgot about us.

Am I gonna be a broken vessel, or just

join the ranks of every veteran
complaining about the obvious?

They haven't been taking care of our veterans
since the '70s, right?

They didn't take care of
our Vietnam air veterans.

They didn't take care of the Gulf War.

So, why am I still confused enough that...

- I'm baffled and I want to kill myself.
- Yeah.

I realized the VA's set up to do what they do,

it's acute medicine, right? It's a hospital.

When is the last time you went to the
hospital or had a breakthrough mentally?

- Yeah.
- You go there to get drugs.

You know, a lot of the veterans who are coming

are over-medicated right now

from the drugs they are taking at the VA.

I think, at one point, we
kinda had 26 different

- types of prescription medications.
- Wow.

That I had, at one time, had
active prescriptions for.

I'll spend weeks where I don't sleep.

Pretty severe nightmares.

You know, just everything that

I can feel bad about, I feel bad about.

I got addicted to my pain pills

that they gave me through the VA for fibroids.

Fortunately for me, mine was kind of monthly,

and you know, here and
there, but for my husband,

- he is in constant pain.
- Yeah.

So, he just sucked it up,

and I guess he just got
more and more depressed.

It got to the point one time where
I stole his last few pills.

And, he went to look for his
pills and he didn't have any.

I don't know what he was going through
at that time. And he was, like,

moaning in agony.

And I remember lying next to him, thinking,

"Would he shut up, because he is messing up
my high?"

But now, finding out about alternate forms
of healing, we are talking about kratom,

that helped me just deal
with the pain a little bit.

Just so I don't mentally get so far out

that I'm doing something self-destructive.

By the point where I started taking kratom,

you know, I was mentally
and physically a mess.

- Yeah.
- You know, you could roll me up, stick me in a garbage bag

and put me out at the curb, and
that was about all I was good for.

What are the side effects
that you get from kratom?

I smile a little too much.

- You are a liberal...
- I'm a liberal. I'm a liberal redneck,

which people think is an
oxymoron, but it's not.

I'm also not a unicorn. There are more of me.

We do exist.

Trae Crowder is a stand-up comedian
known as "The Liberal Redneck."

His Youtube video about kratom
got over 200,000 views,

and got a lot of people to sign
the petition to keep it legal.

This is kratom.

It's a tea made from the leaves
of a plant related to coffee

that has been consumed in Southeast Asia
for hundreds of years.

It's the only tea I fuck with you can't get
at a chicken buffet.

I found kratom. I had never heard of it,
you know,

and as I started reading more and
more about it, I was like, okay,

it's related to the coffee plant,

you know, botanically. So, it gives you energy
and whatever else.

But it's not the, like, jittery
kind that caffeine is,

and I've become aware of

the positive implications
the kratom can have for

opiate addiction, which is

an issue that is extremely personal to me.

Yes, my mama cooks the best

crystal meth you've ever had in your life.

So good.

So good... That's a joke. I'm kidding.

Yeah. My mom will never cook meth.

She sold pills, that's a totally
different thing.

My mom had gotten wrapped
up in pills and opiates,

and not just doing them, she sold them too.

So, she got in trouble with the law
because of that, you know.

She, like, you know, went to jail a couple
of times

over the course of me growing up,

and even when she wasn't in jail,

she was, you know, strung out or whatever,

so she just wasn't really around.

What do you think the future holds for kratom?

Do you think it's gonna get banned,

do you think it's okay for now?

- You think we're...
- I think

that they will end up banning it.

I think it will become illegal.

It's a mild stimulant.

It hits some of the same parts
of your brain that opiates do.

So, a lot of addicts have been using it
to keep off of the hard shit,

which does not sit well with the lizards
at the Pharma companies.

Big Pharmas are one of those

powerful lobbying entities in the country,

and I just knew...

I was like, "Oh, what, this
little plant that grows",

- it can, you know...
- Sure.

Can chop them off at
the knees, potentially.

There's no way they're gonna let that happen.

This is where we have found ourselves,

that we must regulate our own regulators

and bring the truth about kratom to light.

Meet Travis Lowin.

He is the executive director of
the Botanical Education Alliance.

He's been involved in the
importing and exporting,

manufacturing and analytical testing

of herbal supplements for over a decade.

Is there a detrimental effect

to a human being, short and long-term effect,

as a result of using kratom?
And the answer is no.

Through donations that we receive,

they'll fly me out to other states,

and I meet with state representatives,

or senators, or whoever else it might be

that's influential as far as
passing these bills, and so forth,

to basically present the science, to present
the facts.

Is it safe?

You know, is this safe, like if someone was
to sit around,

can someone really overdose on kratom?

The answer is no.

Like, do you... I mean, try overdosing
on coffee grains.

- It's not gonna happen.
- What if a little kid found some pills and took 'em?

If a kid found some pills and took 'em,

he might be pretty excited.

- And probably go play outside.
- It's not gonna...

No, it's not gonna kill your kid.

In Alabama, what's the big interest
in banning it?

Like, what's the big, huge...

Alabama has the largest
prescription painkiller use

to any other state in the United States.

Actually, the statistics show that

there are more prescriptions

for painkillers than there
actually are people in Alabama.

The science is out, the studies
have been conducted.

We've seen several hundred years
of safe traditional use.

And the answer is, as far as addiction

and habit-forming, anything can be that.

Nacho cheese, Coca-Cola. Whatever you want.

Big Food spends billions to make
our food more addictive.

Sugar, fat, and salt

have been shown to have a
synergistic addictive effect.

Cheese even hits our opiate receptors.

Not nearly as strong as opioid drugs,

but it does the same thing.

It leaves us wanting more.

In the food world, it's all about the flavor,

the texture, and the crunch.

And there's a concept called
vanishing caloric density.

If a food melts quickly,

your brain thinks it has no calories,

and you can eat it forever.

Kinda like cheesy poofs.

And companies study the hell out of it.

I actually have been
talking to a lot of people

that use kratom to get off of opiates.

We've seen it a lot, you know.

Do you think that's, like,
kinda playing with fire?

What do you think the problem is there?

Well, I think there's several things
that need to be clear.

First of all, to the degree that
it's completely unregulated,

so, when someone says, "I'm taking kratom,
and I feel just fine."

Really? How do you know what's in that packet?

Because it's completely unregulated,

you don't know if there's even any kratom
in there at all.

Well, she could be right.

There may not be any kratom in those packages.

That sounds like the unregulated world
of dietary supplements.

Ten years ago, I showed the world
how easy it was

to make dietary supplements in my kitchen,

and nobody could stop me.

The problem is I can still
do that, until I get caught.

Although it's the law, and people
are ingesting these pills,

many companies just don't care,
and don't follow the rules.

Look, I know some of these manufacturers,

and like, some of them just manufacture it
in their garage.

They manufacture in their living room.

They're packing capsules in their living room.

They put it in a jar and they take
it to smoke shops and sell it.

I think there needs to be
some regulation on it.

There has to be, you know, FDA compliant
companies that package it in a warehouse.

Lot of the packaging, on the back
it says, "Not for human consumption."

What's the deal with that,
and why's that going on?

I think it's because

that's how they get it into the country.

They don't wanna have it tested.

These fly-by-night companies, as I call them,

that package it in their garage,

they can't afford to send it off
to get it tested.

Do you have more of an issue
with the industry or the DEA?

Way more with the industry.

Way more. The DEA/FDA, they're pretty
consistent about what they wanna do.

They're just doing their job.

Yeah, they're just doing their job,

and they're doing it for a reason.

They've got one of the toughest jobs
in the world.

They have to ensure our food supply is safe.

Or, you know, if there is a problem, they have
to step in to take care of it.

The fact that this industry is not
regulated, is that an issue for you?

It's a huge issue, I mean,
it's one of the most

aggravating, frustrating
things that, we as a group,

you know, the people that are
in this business,

we get together, and we talk about
how do we make this better.

How do we keep the longevity going?

Everybody knows that every legislator
we've talked to,

interacted with, everybody says

the only way this stays is if we regulate it.

Nobody's making the move towards regulation.

For lack of better terminology,

this industry operates like a bunch of
head shops, little fucking drug dealers.

Nobody wants to work together.

Everybody wants to do their own thing quietly.

And we operate like a bunch of drug dealers.

So, the rules in the supplement world say

you're either an FDA-compliant label,

or you are not for human consumption.

You are an adulterated
product, you're not legal,

you shouldn't be able to sell it,

because the people don't have...

I mean, the people have the right to know
what they're gonna ingest.

And if you do not have FDA-compliant labeling,

you're not disclosing what's in the package,

whether it's safe, whether it's been
tested either.

It's all about money, right? Comes down to...

The majority of the vendors,

every week, they post this
little list on Reddit

where these guys are just the dirtbag

of dirtbags trying to sell the cheapest kratom
out there.

When we have conversations, "Why don't you
test your product?"

- "Well, I would have to sell it for more."
- Yeah.

"Or why don't you put this
through a pharmaceutical

co-packer and get this done right?"

"Well, I can't afford to do that."

Then you shouldn't be in the business.

- Sure.
- Then you got no right to be in this business.

In the early '90s,

FDA Commissioner David Kessler

was concerned with the safety of
dietary supplements on the market.

So, he proposed a plan that would
treat supplements more like drugs.

To get approved by the FDA,

a drug needs to meet both
safety and efficacy standards.

But that would be really expensive

and cut into the profit.

Enter the DSHEA Act,

spearheaded by Senator Orrin Hatch.

He's from Utah, where they make about 80%

of the world's dietary supplements.

He thought it'd be crazy to require companies

to do safety studies

on those pills granny's
been poppin' for 50 years,

so he created a Dietary Supplement Health
Education Act

and rushed it through Congress...

On the last day of session.

Any supplement created
and marketed in the U.S.

as a dietary supplement before 1994,

was grandfathered into the system.

So, your vitamins from A to Zinc are safe.

Hey, we can live our dreams.

But how do we know what's on the label
is in the bottle?

We don't.

Enter GMP regulation.

GMP just means Good Manufacturing Practices.

It means products must prove their purity

and test for things like mold,

bacteria, salmonella, and E. coli.

According to a recent episode of Frontline,

because of the DSHEA Act,

the supplement industry boomed to
over 85,000 products on the market,

from over 4,000 manufacturers.

And the FDA only has a team of 25 people

to police it.

Only a small portion of supplements
ever get checked on.

So, should we even be concerned

that kratom isn't part of this broken system?

Or should we be looking for a new system?

You know, it's significant. People are putting
these products

in their body. They're adulterated products,

and there is a health risk,

public health risk imparted into that,

and that's where our concern lies.

This is Daniel Fabricant.

He's the CEO of the Supplement Lobby Group

and Natural Products Association.

Yet, he won't accept kratom
as a natural product.

You wanna still have kratom on the market.

I like it, I use it, you know, for pain.

- So I like it.
- I think you go to...

For pain, now pain is gonna
be into the drug side.

- Sure.
- Okay.

So, if you wanna use it for chronic pain,

you go to those kratom manufacturers

and you go, "Hey, you guys have
to develop this as a drug."

But I don't wanna be on a drug.

- I just wanna take the natural plant.
- Okay.

Chris, Chris,

the point is you're making a drug claim,
that makes it a drug,

by law, 'cause you're treating something.

Now, that's the real issue here.

Its intended use is everything.

And if the intended use is as a drug,
well, then you go that process.

If the intended use is as a food...

If you said, "Hey, Dan, I
just wanna use it because

I'm in a better mood when I use it.

I feel, you know, slightly better."

Not that you have anxiety
or anything else like that,

but, you know, you're a healthy person,

and you wanna help elevate your mood.

Well, then that would be

the food or the supplement route.
Again, that requires that safety study.

There's no special exemption.

My daughter also thinks that when I
kiss her finger and she has a boo-boo,

that it helps it heal.

Well, my lips aren't getting
approved by the FDA anytime soon,

no matter how much she believes that.

It's an issue that gets brought
up and everybody goes,

"It's addiction, right?"

And then everybody goes,
"Well, what about caffeine,

what about alcohol, what about tobacco?"

I guess, what about all that stuff?

Alcohol is regulated one way.

We don't let people, you
know, under 21 have it.

Hello... Mindy.

But you also have data with regards to the use
of alcohol

and things like that.

Tobacco, similarly.

Tobacco is regulated now by FDA,

Center for Tobacco Products.

There are also products that have been
approved by the FDA on the drug side

to help you overcome nicotine addiction.

So, you know, again, I think with both
of those areas,

and I'm certainly not advocating the use of

tobacco or alcohol,

- but there's...
- Sure.

...there's a scientific base.

- Yeah.
- And I think that's where

you know, where some of the issues are.

I just wanna see people, no matter whatever
they're selling,

whether it's the industry,

whether it's FDA,

whether it's, you know, someone in
the industry with a new product.

There's a system there. Use a system,
use it appropriately.

We're gonna promote the
use of natural products.

It doesn't help anybody when...

- Sure.
- ...people are, you know, selling things that,

with claims that make them drugs.

I think what we have here
is a vocabulary problem,

not a drug problem.

The powers that be classify kratom
by its intended use.

So, according to the law,

if your intention is to elevate your mood,

or stay awake, then it's totally fine,

and you can sell it as a supplement
at a gas station

with all sorts of claims on the bottle.

But if your intention is to get out of pain,

or to get off of opiates,

all of a sudden, it's a drug,

and it will require years of studies,

and costs, on average, a billion dollars
to get to market.

Same exact substance.

The way that this works is you actually
train the animals

to press a lever

so many times, and after so many times,

they get an injection of morphine.

They can get food or they can get drug,

and they can choose between one or the other,

and they usually end up

choosing the drug.

It makes addiction
sound so simple, it's like,

you hit this, you get a reward,

I like it, I'm gonna do it again.

addiction as a disease,

is that simple. A lot of people say
it's a choice.

I, honestly, don't believe it's ever a choice,

except for maybe the first time.

The people that are anti-kratom,
I should say,

are saying like, "Look, if it's so good,
why isn't pharma coming after it?"

I know exactly why pharma
isn't going after it.

Because you can't get a patent around it.

We filed a patent for use as a treatment

for any kind of drug withdrawal.

- And it didn't go through?
- It didn't go through.

Actually, we met with more rejections from
the U.S. Patent Office

than our patent attorneys
said they've ever seen.

People have this perception that

regular kratom use could actually cause

serious dependence, and then you abstain
from kratom use,

it leads to severe withdrawal symptoms.

I don't think so.

The only thing is, you need
to know how to use kratom

correctly, because in America,

I believe that people don't
really know how to use kratom.

So, you think that we're just
scraping the surface here?

You think that we can actually go further,

- if we start learning how to properly use this.
- Exactly. Exactly.

If they can come, we can all come together

- and do good science.
- Exactly.

And you know, provide some kind of funding

to Christopher McCurdy,

then we can actually do good science,

because I see it now, kratom
has negative picture.

The government is not gonna
provide any funding.

It is difficult because, as I said,
we are at the initial stage.

And you get to see kratom-using population
is growing,

and growing, and growing, and growing.

You have a PhD in addiction. Have you
seen people die from crystal meth?

- Of course, I've seen...
- Have you seen people die from heroin?

Of course, I've seen.

And zero from kratom?

From kratom, I've not seen any
serious medical problems.

Dr. Holcomb,

next, you're a board-certified
general surgeon,

practicing physician, who,
at first, was against

kratom, but your personal experience

with your son changed your opinion.

Dr. Murray Holcomb is a
general surgeon in Austin, Texas.

His son, Grant, battled addiction
and depression.

And when he got out of rehab, he found kratom.

Which seems to be the one thing
that really helps him.

He's up in the tree, so...

- Oh, he's up there.
- Yeah.

I got a DWI, and I totaled my car

just, like, five days before
I went into treatment.

So, it wasn't your typical intervention

where I walked in, like,

they had planned it out or anything like that.

Addiction later became
a significant part of that.


probably more often than not,

addiction with issues that...

Or medications that were
prescribed by other physicians.

I had a really bad leg injury in high school,

wrecked a four-wheeler,

and snapped my leg, you know, like, thirds,

so, that's the first time I was introduced to
you know, painkillers.

What were your days like back then?

Take two swigs off the bottle

that was next to my bed on the nightstand.

Pop a couple of my Xanax.

Do that just so I would be able to go to work,

so I could get myself out of bed,

and go to work,

and work a full day,

but, throughout that day,
popping pills as needed.

Kinda get myself through
that, and then buy a bottle

and work on finishing it.

One in five adults will experience
a mental health issue

in any given year.

One in 25, approximately, are
severe mental health issues.

It interferes with their ability
to function,

or is disruptive to their life.

Thirteen percent of the population
is on antidepressants.

I'd happened to visit a shop that had
kratom behind the counter.

I decided, in a good way,

to try that before I got to the hotel room

and got a bottle or anything like that.

And from that first day that I took it again,

and it had been probably two or three years
since I had taken it,

that desire to get my hands
on drugs or alcohol,

like, completely left.

Kratom seemed to step in and give him just...

For whatever imbalance he had,

that's the key that fits him.

So, from that point on, and he'll be
the first to tell you

that it's not just kratom,

it's, you know, working on spirituality,

his relationship with God, going
to meetings, giving back,

exercise. Takes kratom twice a day.

He's not high, loopy,

forgetful, inappropriate,

- anything.
- His eyes are clear,

- and we've seen him. We've seen him...
- Yeah.

Anything but normal.

Do you feel like it's addictive?

I think it's got addictive
properties, for sure.

I mean, obviously,

but, and not necessarily

physically, but, you know, psychologically,

if there's something that's gonna make you
feel better,

you know, I feel like that's addictive.

Now that I'm sober, one
of my favorite things to do

is to help other people

by sharing my story at meetings.

I was excited to speak at Cliffside, Malibu,

the place where I got sober.

But then I got a phone call.

So Mindy,

- Who is our mutual friend,
- Yes.

Just blew you out.

Said, "We love you,

we don't have a judgment on the kratom,

but you're not speaking at our meeting."

- That's what happened.
- Yes, sure.

How'd that make you feel?

I kinda felt hurt... It hurt my feelings,
to tell you the truth.

Now, I love Mindy, it had
nothing to do with her,

it's just that I felt like
maybe I wasn't sober anymore.

And I don't know, like,

you know, I mean, am I?

Where does that leave you?

Taking something that's not ever been

put in a category, or put in, you know,

in a box. I just take it because I'm in pain.

Well, I don't know enough about it.

And I've done some serious study

over the last few days.

You know, I've got Connie who is an addiction
research fellow.

And she's given me so much to read

that when I couldn't read anymore,

I had somebody sit in my
office and read to me.

There's no uniformity

in making the drug.

There's no uniformity in
the dosage of the drug.

And ironically enough,

I'm actually treating a
couple of people right now

at Cliffside

who have been abusing kratom.


Having said that...

it would be criminal,

bordering on the criminal,

to not do the research

to figure out what the appropriate
medicinal purposes are.

People abuse everything.

Well, Chris, you're just defending your right

to use this substance.

- Sure.
- Just like any other addict would.

- So, how do we know?
- Mm-hmm.

And the truth is, we don't know.

Now, I know you, and I believe you.

Okay? You look fine to me.

I've never seen you look this good.

Never seen you this calm.

We get about 100 calls a day

from people trying to get
off drugs and alcohol.

Ninety calls

are because of prescription opiates.

Ninety of them.

Why do you think that nobody's
stopping the opiate epidemic?

Let's talk about why it's happening.

Why it's happening is

there is no advertising necessary

for opiates.

- You never see it.
- Never.

If you stop taking opiates, you get sick.

You don't have a choice.

People think slavery ended in 1865,

it didn't. It's going on right now in 2017.

Okay? Slavery exists today.

Okay? If you're on opiates,

you are a slave.

You're not controlling that drug, that drug
is controlling you.

Everything you got. Every goddamn pill.

So, how long does a
shipment this size last?

How long does it take to sell this?

- About a month. Yeah.
- Really?

- 2,500 pounds of kratom in a month?
- Kilos.

Kilos of kratom in a month.

So, from here what happens
is, once we open these,

then the next thing we're gonna do is
we're gonna test it.

Whenever we send product out for testing,
like all of this product sitting here,

none of this can be used yet, because
we don't have test results back yet.

So every batch, you have to test it?

- Have to, no, but we do.
- Yeah.

We actually test it three times.

The FDA put out this import alert that says,

we're not allowed to import this because
they don't feel it's safe.

- But they never tested it, so I mean...
- Sure.

They're basing their opinion without tests.

So many people talk shit about the FDA,

- but we really need to support the FDA...
- Yes, we do.

...because once everybody gets onboard,

and you know, when the FDA says,
"Okay, this is a full supplement,"

now, we go back to pharmaceutical co-packers.

- Yes.
- So, now everything's done in a clinical environment.

We don't have to build each
individual little segment.

I'm surprised there hasn't been a politician,
and maybe we need to find one,

that gets behind this.

142 Americans are dying every day

of drug overdose, every day.

Which means we have a 9/11-scale loss
every three weeks in America.

So, the first recommendation
we say to the president is,

you must declare national emergency.

This problem, Jake, is not happening,

it's not starting on our street corners.

It's starting in our doctors'
offices and hospitals.

Another politician trying to fix this
opioid crisis

is Congressman Mark Pocan.

But kratom's illegal in
his state of Wisconsin,

and he wants to see that changed.

So, he and his colleague, Matt Salmon,

wrote a bipartisan letter to Congress

begging them to keep kratom legal.

And they got 50 other congressmen to sign it,

which, by today's standards, is huge.

This is one where I think the other people
are way ahead of

elected officials, on issues like this.

They don't see it as an issue.

And when kratom came up again,

it's something that's been legal in virtually
every state in the country.

We haven't had problems with it,

and then, all of a sudden,
to see it go to Schedule I

just raised that red flag,
that we thought we needed

to at least try to find a
way to put brakes on it.

And I think the important part is
we did it in a bipartisan way,

'cause, you know, so often

things are either done from
the Left or the Right.

Sometimes you just gotta do it

right from where it needs to be addressed,
from both sides.

And do you think that banning kratom could
actually hurt people?

Absolutely. I mean, one... I mean, there are
a number of people

that we talked to since doing that,

who've shared stories like yours.

That this is something that helps them,

especially people who've
been addicted to opioids.

To take that away would seem wrong,
especially if there's not

hard evidence as a reason why, and so far,

I haven't seen any hard evidence

that makes sense why you could justify

putting it on Schedule I.

In fact, if anything, there's research,

including from universities that are looking
at the positive effects

of something like kratom.

Part of why we have the opioid problem
we have is that there is

almost an over-prescription of opioids,

and then an overreaction, like we often do,
to stopping it.

And then if people couldn't get now
what they got addicted to,

they went to the street and got heroin.

And I recently was visiting a hospital
in my district.

A doctor came late. He goes,
"I'm sorry, I had my daily

heroin overdose to deal with. I just got done.

I was dealing with someone who came in."

You know, we should be
shooting for every possible

alternative way to make sure you can
get people off of opioids.

And unfortunately, I don't
think we're doing that,

if we look at things like kratom

as Schedule I rather than,
potentially, a solution.

Another potential solution
for this opioid crisis

might be ibogaine.

Iboga is a natural plant from Africa,

that can turn 20-year heroin addictions around
in hours.

The problem is it's a Schedule I drug
in the U.S.

Dr. Deborah Mash is the world's
leading researcher on ibogaine,

and she's fighting to make it legal.

But I wonder what she thinks about kratom.

Well, as you may know,
I've spent my life's work

working on a medication from Africa,

another natural product called ibogaine.

And ibogaine, which comes from
the region of Gabon in Cameroon,

another one of Mother Nature's alkaloids

we know can be used to
successfully detox people

off of opiates.

So, my worry is that,

you know, we have people who
are not opiate abusers,

who have never partied with opiates,

who now get introduced to the euphoria

that kratom or mitragynine has.

I think there's pretty good evidence
that mitragynine is addictive.

I think there's no doubt about the science
behind that.

So, do we want another addicting opiate
on the planet?

Does it need to be studied more?
Sure, it does.

We need more research.

We need better molecules to treat addiction.

Is there a place for developing mitragynine

for the treatment of addiction?

I'm not sure.

There are many different
ways that you can substitute

an opiate to slide off of a heroin habit,

and to not suffer from the withdrawals.

And opiate withdrawals are terrible,

so, we understand why patients

may wanna have access to kratom.

Okay? But I want it regulated.

I don't want it being sold,

and maybe I'm getting old,

I don't want it being sold in head shops.

I don't want young people playing with it.

We don't know enough yet.

And I understand that, historically,
a lot of people have used kratom.

- Yeah.
- I get it.

But the bottom line that gives me pause
over and over again,

is that we are faced now in the United States

with a staggering epidemic

- of opiate abuse and addiction.
- Yeah, huge.

I don't wanna add to that.

- I don't want more people introduced...
- Yeah.

- ...to addicting opiates.
- But Pharma is actually putting out stronger opiates.

Pharma is another story.

- Okay?
- That's the problem, right?


That's another, you know...

- I can't fight that battle.
- Yeah.

Do I think Pharma made mistakes?
Oh, yes, I do.

Do I think they're responsible for some of
what we're seeing today?

Yes, I do.

But we also know there's more heroin
on the streets than ever before.

- Right?
- Yeah.

Post 9/11, Afghanistan and
the opium runs poisoned Americans.

"Just bring those drugs in."

And what we need to do is we need to help
our brothers and sisters.

We need to look at it with a humanistic eye

to give people the opportunity to
kick the habit the best way we can.

And we've gotta be bold.

And maybe there's a place for kratom
under medical supervision,

- or in treatment centers...
- Mm-hmm.

...but, you know, without the money
to work that up,

it's not going to happen.

In this country, every
time we have an epidemic,

we Stockton Slap it like the Diaz Brothers.

We weren't gonna let measles, mumps,
or rubella choke us out.

Smallpox, an Iron Mike Tyson KO in the first.

Like the Terminator, we decimated chicken pox
with extreme prejudice.

And when our president got polio,

we went all Ultimate Warrior
and press-slammed it.

In the '80s, they sang "We Are The World,"

and every continent banded together

and obliterated the AIDS epidemic.

Why aren't we doing the same
for the opioid epidemic?

But I called the DEA, the FDA, and the NIDA,

and they all said the same thing,

"We're not gonna talk to you."

So, it's time to take
matters into our own hands.

First, we're gonna need
some money for research.

You know, Dr. McCurdy
was with us in England

and he came out with all this new research.

And he's saying, you know, the real thing
that we need is money for research.

And you've done really well with kratom.

I just keep thinking like, "Man, if all
these other companies keep bombing out,

they're not testing our product, they're
not doing what they're supposed to do,

like, we can do it."

The other thing I like that
McCurdy's doing is he's developing

that quick and easy test for adulterants.

So if their people are not testing the
product, and the product is dirty,

he's got it. He's developing
that test for that as well.

So, when, like, when I did Prescription Thugs,
it was a different thing.

So I did Prescription Thugs,

I wanted to help people get off of opioids.

And I think that we achieved warning people
that opioids are dangerous.

But I wasn't able to really
get people off of 'em.

I wasn't able to help the problem.

And this is a step towards a solution.

I'd love to get involved, love to help.

We'll fund that first round
of research ourselves.

Kelly agreed to get the ball rolling
on funding research.

So I got him to hop on a plane with me,

head to Florida, and catch
up with Dr. McCurdy.

And now, it was time to talk about
making a difference.

Pain, emotional pain
and physical trauma pain,

chemically, are the same inside the body.

If we know that, how come
we can't measure pain?

Well, pain is a subjective measurement.

Nobody can objectify pain
measurement right now

like you're asking, why can't we measure it?

It's the fifth vital sign now.

So, when you get checked
into an emergency room,

or you get checked into a hospital,

they wanna check your blood pressure,
your weight,

you know, your temperature,

and then they ask you, "So, what's
your pain level on one to ten?"

There's no way to judge that other than
you telling me "a ten."

How can we get involved? How can we help
a lot of people?

And how do we bring this,

because we believe a lot in this plant and
the possibilities that it can provide.

We need to know where we stand
on abuse potential.

We need to know where we stand on the
limitations of, you know, how much can we give,

what doses do we need to be giving,

how do we need to be giving it?

If we can have a standardized material

that we know meets whatever the guidelines are
for that standardization,

and doesn't go above or below that,

so that every time you get that product,

you're getting exactly what you signed up for.

You know, you can look at
it in the spirits industry,

you can look at it in the tobacco industry.

If we eliminated all opioids from
the face of the earth tomorrow,

they'll find something else.

- Street chemists will make a new one.
- To go after it, right?

So, I don't think it's gonna
be the end-all, be-all,

but I certainly think it's gonna be a solution

that will help people that are really
interested in getting off of opioids.

Why I became a pharmacist was because I wanted
to help people.

Why I ended up becoming a researcher

was because, along the way, I fell in love
with the fact that we can make discoveries

that would impact far more people

than if I was just at your corner drug store.

If we make a really important discovery,
or we're able to be a part of

a big process that can affect, you know,

not just people on the corner,

- but people on every corner, right?
- Yes.

Not just in this country,
but across the continent,

across the globe.

I would love to see in my lifetime,

that we were able to contribute
in a huge, positive way

to opioid addiction, drug addiction,
in a bigger picture,

because I really think this is beyond
just opioid addiction.

We felt strongly enough about
it to file the patents,

originally, on treating essentially every drug
of abuse.

So, we got the team together.

Team's here. We can do it. We can do the work.

This is exciting,

and the reason I make documentaries.

Dr. McCurdy has agreed to move forward
with his research

to the point of the first human
clinical trials with kratom.

And that can only happen if
we're all on the same page.

The DEA is soliciting public comment
about kratom through December 1st.

After that, it will decide whether it
will proceed with any kind of regulation,

permanent or temporary.

Kratom advocates went to work

and sent over 5,000 comments to the DEA.

But as the deadline got closer,

I started getting nervous.

What if it wasn't enough?

What if they did really ban this plant

and make it a Schedule-I drug?

Then I got an idea, and I sent the text.

It has these properties that
help people bridge the gap

when they get off of opioids,

so they don't have withdrawals.

It seems like this is a drug, or a plant,
I should say,

that just does not have enough... There's not
enough data.

- There's not enough research.
- Not enough research.

The vet I was talking about,
he can't live without kratom.

What are we gonna do, take it away from him?

- Yeah.
- Like, where is he gonna go? Back on opioids?

To the VA hospital? Like, it's...


What a weird situation. So,
we really need you, Chris.

This documentary is actually important.

The one way we can keep this legal

and keep other things legal as well,

is everybody needs to go to a
website that the DEA has set up.

And if you make a comment by December 1st,

the DEA has to read it.

And your show is so powerful,

if we can get 10,000 comments,
then this is gonna stay legal.

New At Noon, a massive public outcry

has the Feds doing an about-face

on a controversial herbal supplement
known as kratom.

The agency was flooded with
thousands of angry calls.

DEA has backed off.

After 23,000 public comments
submitted to the DEA...

99.1% of the comments said, "Fuck off.
This is good."

And for now, kratom was saved.

A spokesperson for the
DEA told me on the phone

that the response was overwhelming.

They had never seen such a positive outpouring
from consumers.

There were a few comments against kratom,

one in particular from Dr. Daniel Fabricant,

who also blocked me on Twitter.

So, there was a drug called flakka.

- Have you heard of flakka?
- No.

Your body temperature
rising to 105, 108 degrees.

That's why this person had his family
dump water on him.

- Whoa.
- So, I think kratom gets lumped in

with these synthetic drugs like
Spice and flakka, that are...

Watch, this guy jumps
into the back of the car.

What the fuck? This is someone on flakka?
Holy shit.

We see in here, paranoia...

Relax. Relax.

Oh, my God.

I think it was a drug that they were
selling in head shops down in Florida,

and it got banned within, like,
I don't know, couple of months

- Of it being...
- Always fucking Florida.

- It's always Florida.
- Goddamn, Florida.

The gateway to demonic possession.

If there were ever an
epicenter of addiction in America,

it'd be Broward County.

At the peak of the pill mill days,

there were 89 of them there.

Last year, 159 people died there,

and plenty of people are more than happy
to get you sober

for a price.

This dude charged insurance companies
$58 million

for drug tests that were
completely unnecessary.

All in Florida, all the time.

Ian Mautner was on three antidepressants,

that were... They all had a
black box of warning on them.

"This may cause suicidal thoughts

in young people and adolescents."

And, you know, that's something that's like,

now you get to say, "Well,
he died from kratom."

You know, I don't think that's fair.

Well, I'm not gonna discuss that one case.

I know what the state's leading epidemiologist
will tell you.

- I believe you guys are gonna interview him?
- Sure.

I know what Dr. Mash, who studied it down
in the University of Miami

will tell you, and what her white paper says.

Let's regulate it.

If there's a benefit to it,
let NIDA work through this.

There are companies, there's three companies
out there

that actually do it legally,
like as a supplement,

and they don't label it as
"Not for human consumption."

Most of the companies do.

And I think that that's a bad thing. I think
they need to get rid of that.

- They need to...
- And how would you propose they get rid of that?

Do GMP, just run it exactly like
the supplement companies run it.

They test everything when it comes in,
and they test it before it goes out,

and they know that what it says on the label
is exactly what's in it.

- I think they definitely...
- Well, I wish you luck.

- Thank you.
- I know

that it's a hard thing to have an addiction
and to have to get over it.

- Yeah.
- And I understand

the fear of anybody that
wants to take it away.

You've seen that throughout the country.

The voices that are addicted to one drug
swing over,

and, in my opinion, are addicted to kratom and
don't want it to go away.

It was never a problem before.

It's banned in its country
of origin for over 42 years.

Do you know why?

Because it was cutting into the heroin trade.

They weren't making enough money
off of their drugs,

- So they had to cut down kratom.
- Oh, that's such a freakin' ridiculous soundbite.

Kristin Jacobs couldn't seem to get
any of her bills passed

or garner any support.

It's getting completely slandered,

people are putting it with
bath salts and spice,

which is crazy.

Everything in this package
upon this ordinance,

it's all negative.

It's not balanced, it's not broad,

it's inexcusable.

There are people that are hurting out there,

and you wanna ban this stuff
and put them in jail.

I know, Commissioner Jacobs,
this is your last meeting.

And I would like nothing more
than to vote for something

that you brought in your last meeting,

but I'm not yet ready to vote on this.

You are dealing with those who are addicted,

and you're sitting there, listening to
all those maybe addicts in the room

saying that they're not addicted,

and you're hearing others up here,

out of a lack of knowledge,

and indeed, even our own medical examiner,

who doesn't exactly deal with live people...

I guess it's not
the voice of addiction,

it's just the voice of reason.

And it came down pretty
hard on Kristin Jacobs.

All of her bills got shot down,

but she still keeps trying.

After the hearing, the Florida State
Law Enforcement Bureau

conducted their own investigation

and came out with this statement.

"A review of the information
currently available

through identified law enforcement
and laboratory sources in Florida

indicates that kratom does not
constitute a significant risk

to the safety and welfare
of Florida residents."

In the case of Ian Mautner,

Florida State Law Enforcement

said the presence of other
controlled substances

may have contributed to the
subject's state of mind

at the time of the suicide.

I wanna live in a world that is pain-free,

addiction-free, and judgment-free.

I wanna reverse this pain epidemic.

Being out of pain is a basic human right.

So, if someone is stuck in pain,

or stuck in addiction,

we need to have the compassion

to reach out and pull them out of it.

I'll do everything I can to help further
the research on kratom

and other effective non-addictive painkillers.

But I do think it's kind of ironic

that we have to do all these studies

for something that's been used safely
for hundreds of years.

In the past decade,

under the watchful eyes
of the FDA and the DEA,

with all their hundreds of clinical
trials, studies, and warnings,

and all the programs to keep kids off drugs,

over 200,000 Americans have
died from opioid painkillers,

a lot of people I really loved.

So much for your war on drugs.

The opioid crisis is an emergency,

and I'm saying officially,
right now, it is an emergency.

It's a national emergency.

We're going to spend a lot
of time, a lot of effort,

and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.

Kratom may not be the only hope
for this opioid crisis,

but it's certainly one of them.

So before we turn our backs on
something that God gave us,

maybe we all just need
to take a leaf of faith.

Um, ask, "So, when you did the studies,
were there any side effects with the rats?"

So, when you did the side effects, were there
any studies with...

Were there...

- This is...
- Side effects.

- This is gonna make the blooper reel.
- Yeah.

So, right over here, this house,
this is the guy I was talking about.

With the gay feet.

Ah, was it really bad?

I'm just kidding. I'm trying to point
shit out, so it looks like we're talking.

Oh, if you die at my house...

Um, you signed a waiver, right?

- I haven't signed a waiver yet.
- Ah, shit.

You should talk about smoking, buddy.

I still smoke. I still have bad habits.

No, no, no. I don't wanna
talk about that.

- No?
- No.

My mother thinks I quit.

Oh, your mother thinks...

- Let's see the dance moves.
- Yeah, yeah.

No, no. I'm shy.