Someone told me about a place in Wilmington, North Carolina, that sells tea brewed from “some weird drug called kratom that’s illegal in Thailand.” The place—a tiki bar called Kat 5 Kava that doesn’t serve alcohol—is like some sort of toned-down methadone clinic or legal opium den, I heard. I was intrigued.
Even though it’s been around for some time, the media is calling kratom a “new legal drug.” A tree native to Thailand, kratom leaves are harvested and dried to create the drug, which was banned there in 1943, after people had started to use it as an opium alternative and the government realized it wasn’t being taxed.
Last week, I was out drinking at a bar down the street from Kat 5 Kava, so I stopped in to try a cup of kratom tea. Inside the establishment, a group of people sat sluggishly at a table near a bar that was surrounded by multiple screens playing nature videos of whales swimming in the ocean and deer frolicking in the woods. I looked at the menu on the wall. Half of it was full of beverages made with kava, a plant root used for sedative and anesthetic effects. The other half of the menu consisted of kratom drinks and powders, which were supposed to give an “opiate-mixed-with-caffeine kind of buzz,” according to the server.
There are three different kratom powders sold at this bar: White Borneo, Red Mystic, and Green Peace, each of which costs $2 a gram. The United States has a variety of kratom powders, such as Thai, Indo, Bali, Malay, and Sumatra. I stood there perplexed when I noticed the “brew” for $10 on the menu. A friendly patron with bags under his eyes added, “It won’t make you sleepy too much… that one won’t.”