There is a wide range of intoxicating, addictive substances, many of which are regulated or outright banned in the United States. Common substances found in these categories vary widely and can include caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, opioid painkillers, marijuana, and bath salts. Numerous drugs are semisynthetic, meaning they are derived from a naturally occurring chemical, but then changed in a laboratory setting, sometimes with other chemicals added. Many newer drugs, like ecstasy or Spice, are entirely synthetic.

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Herbal Drugs of Abuse

    1. Kratom
    2. Kava
    3. Salvia Divinorum

While several of the most problematic substances that make the news are manufactured at some stage, there are still several plant-based drugs that can lead to addiction, abuse, and dangerous side effects. Nicotine is a plant-based intoxicant that is highly addictive and legal, although tightly regulated, in the US. Similarly, marijuana is also an addictive and intoxicating plant-based substance, which is federally illegal in the US under the Controlled Substances Act, but largely due to its increasing popularity, several states are working on changing their laws to allow some regulated use of the drug.

As imports change and US regulations adjust, there are some dangerous, addictive, and intoxicating natural substances that have recently become popular in this country, typically sold as herbal or dietary supplements. Although they are not specifically illegal in the United States, many people report adverse effects, intoxication, and addiction or abuse. Regulatory agencies warn against these drugs.

Here are the three most popular, and most potentially addictive, legal herbal drugs in the US.

  1. Kratom

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), kratom in the United States is found either in pill or powdered form. The substance is a dried, concentrated version of the leaves of a tree named Mitragyna speciosa that grows in Southeast Asia, which is chewed for its stimulant properties. Kratom can be taken in gel capsule form like a pill or brewed into a tea. In large doses, it has similar effects to opioid drugs like heroin, but without the same potential for overdose. In low doses, the drug has stimulant properties.

Kratom is not officially banned by the Federal Controlled Substances Act, but some states, like Alabama and California, are writing their own individual laws to stop the ingestion of this intoxicating substance. Larger regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are also cracking down on imported supplements that contain kratom.

Effects of kratom include nausea, itching, sweating, dry mouth, constipation, loss of appetite, increased urination, insomnia, and possibly weight loss. These effects are somewhat similar to opioid drugs. Although kratom was originally hailed as a way for people struggling with opioid painkiller and heroin addiction to overcome these problems, the drug has been found to be addictive on its own, and taking the drug to ease withdrawal symptoms could actually increase the potential for relapse. The DEA does list kratom as a “Drug of Concern.”

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  1. Kava

This substance was originally developed among western Pacific island cultures, derived from the Piper methysticum plant that grows natively there. The relaxing effects made it a popular social drink, similarly to alcohol’s use in Western countries. Kava is also similar to alcohol in that it can lead to liver damage, and there have been some reported deaths related to kava toxicity. Europe and Canada have both banned the import, sale, and ingestion of kava, but the US has not, although the FDA has raised concerns about the substance’s safety.

There are no reported medical benefits of kava, although powdered and gel capsule forms of this substance are sold legally as an herbal or dietary supplement in the United States. The sedative effects of kava have been used to alleviate anxiety, stress, ADHD, epilepsy, depression, psychosis, migraines and headaches, pain from urinary tract infections or the common cold, and even withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines. There is not enough medical evidence to support any of these uses, however.

The FDA has released consumer advisories since 2002 warning about the potential dangers of kava. There is potential that kava supplements are diluted with other substances that can cause negative side effects, including increasing the risk of liver damage. Other negative side effects of kava include sedation, euphoria, muscle weakness, tremors, ataxia, and reduced breathing (though not as extreme as with other CNS depressants).

  1. Salvia Divinorum

This plant is sometimes referred to as “diviner’s sage,” and it is most widely used by the Mazatec Indians in Oaxaca, Mexico, for religious purposes. The first US uses of the drug were when Albert Hoffman and R. Gordon Wasson acquired some from the Mazatecs in 1962, but concluded that salvia was a lesser hallucinogen when compared to psilocybin in mushrooms.

Salvia grows in a wide swath of Mexico and the United States’ southwestern states. It is related to mint, and the leaves look similar. When used as an intoxicating substance, salvia is chewed, smoked, or vaporized. Sometimes, it is brewed as a tea.

Salvia divinorum is a hallucinogenic drug, causing perceptual changes in light, color, sound, shapes, movement, and time. The substance can also lead to anxiety, paranoia, and aggression, and it can trigger psychosis in individuals prone to these mental health disorders. There are no medical uses for salvia.

Ingesting salvia can be dangerous, and the DEA has listed it as a “Drug of Concern.” However, salvia is not controlled under the Controlled Substances Act, and it is sold freely as an herbal or dietary supplement, incense, or other legal substance. Although the federal government, and most international groups like the United Nations Drug Convention, have not made moves to ban salvia, many states in the US have regulated the drug, and individual countries like Japan, Australia, Sweden, Italy, and Romania either tightly control or outright ban salvia.

Get Help for Abuse of Legal Herbal Drugs

Although these substances are legal for ingestion in the US, depending on the state a person is in, they are not safe for use and can lead to substance abuse, addiction, and mental or physical side effects. These drugs are not inherently safe simply because they are technically legal, and people who believe they struggle with addiction to, or abuse of, these substances, should seek a medical professional’s help immediately. A comprehensive rehabilitation program that specializes in overcoming addiction can help people get back on track to a healthy, balanced life free of substances of abuse.