A deadly cluster fuck.

When examining all of the interviews I'd done, the facts I’d found, and every other revelation that came from the leg-work I did for the research of this article, at the end of the day I found little more than a total shitshow of failures on multiple levels. When trying to make sense of both the legal and addictive realities of the synthetic chemical known as “potions,” I was met with more questions at every turn. From half-truths given by the retailers of this drug about it just being a “super kratom,” to questions not being answered by various legal/courtroom representatives, each negative experience led to me being completely disheartened anew. Though this obfuscation of the truth was frustrating enough from an investigation standpoint, for me the anger hit even harder because using kratom as a selling point to peddle this mutant drug touched on a more personal level. Kratom helped get me away from a yearslong, and very severe, opioid addiction. 

I discovered in 2007 that I had an auto-immune condition called Crohn’s Disease. This had been brought on by me drinking a fifth of liquor a day, every day, for a number of years prior. My digestive system was a mess with a lot of pain as a result. This was when I met Dr. Satan.

I call him that because upon my first visit to discuss the various treatment options for my condition, he prescribed me a 120 count of 10mg Lortab—a powerful opiate—with 12 refills. I was given free rein over a total of 1,440 pills after ONLY spending one hour in an examination room going over my charts. This action would help shape my life into a complete nightmare for a very long time.

It wasn’t until I eventually met a doctor that proactively wanted to help both of my diseases—Crohn’s and opioid addiction—at once that things changed for the better. She spent two years helping me wean off the pills, all by using a healthy dose of “harm reduction” strategies. Over time, cannabis and unadulterated naturals would become my go-to. This included smoking cannabis for smaller flare-ups while taking kratom for the nastier ones instead of opioids. Her plan worked and saved my life.

It’s because of this reason that it really pisses me off to no end when people dick around with natural products that have been known to truly help people from ruining their lives by keeping them from using really bad shit like fentanyl. Well, that and the fact that I’ve seen the outcome of a serious addiction firsthand to the topic of today’s discussion.

For those of you who have not heard, there is a drug that is both legal and widely available that is being touted as a “super kratom concentrate” called potions. This drug comes in the form of a capsule and can be found at a majority of smoke (head) shops statewide. Its proliferation began amongst kratom users due to the aforementioned dishonest marketing around three years ago. It was shortly after this that my friend “Johnny Love” came in contact with the substance.

At the time he discovered potions, he was in a sober living facility. Because he had been to them previously due to other issues, he knew that certain substances—like kratom—wouldn’t show up on a drug test. Around the time he began taking potions, he started adding kratom concentrates to his regimen, and it was during a trip to pick up his usual supply that he was actively told by the clerk about something that would work even better. Says Love, “The first shop that sold it to me, they told me that I was buying kratom extract. They told me it was supercharged kratom; they didn’t tell me it was anything else other than that.”

Yet, no matter how misleading the information was that he received, the first time he took it, he knew it was something entirely different, stating, “It feels good as fuck. It feels like taking a super high dose of oxycontin, but more warm and cuddly. It’s more of that warm cuddly feeling inside.”

There’s an incredibly sinister reason why the marked difference. When it comes to potions, it’s a complete substance-stew that contains very little, if any, actual kratom. Independent testing done by one of the legitimately honest kratom shops I visited found that the primary ingredient is tianeptine—a strong antidepressant—along with varying degrees of two or more benzodiazepines, and a pinch of kratom just for fun. This combination allows for an incredibly strong opioid-like effect, in conjunction with slamming the wiring of your brain against the wall. And it’s because of how the antidepressant attempts to re-route your neural pathways that cause potions to be one of the most addictive chemicals legally available.

Because the knowledge of the chemical makeup of potions—along with their high potential for abuse/addiction—has been figured out since Love started taking them, I was sure that the retailers had wised up and understood what it was they were actually selling and would warn any potential buyers.

I’m sad to report that two years later, the kratom retailers have changed nothing.

I went to multiple head/smoke shops in the Denver, Aurora, and Centennial areas and was met with the same information Love had been given so long ago. With the one exception I mentioned earlier that told me the truth about their testing, every single shop I traveled to that sold potions told me they were just a “super concentrated kratom,” with one place telling me they were more potent because of a “special double-concentration method.”

When I explained this to Love, he wasn’t surprised; you make more in the way of profits when your client is hopelessly dependent on what you’re selling. Because of this business model, I wanted to know how long it took to become this kind of a “repeat client.” Love claimed addiction happens “pretty much right away, a couple of days.” After this couple of days, the amount of time it was taking for the withdrawals to kick in became less and less.

This was accompanied by a set of symptoms that, according to Love, are a “completely different type of withdrawal. It starts hitting immediately; like after a few hours everything would become doom and gloom.” When I mentioned to Love that a former coworker of mine who was severely addicted to potions had said the first withdrawal symptoms always impacted his mental and emotional health, he agreed. “Total despair. I would wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror and see my little skinny fucking body, and I would just fucking feel just so bad about myself, like I wanna fucking kill myself.” When I asked him about tapering off potions, Love made it clear that wasn’t an option. “You can’t taper off, it’s impossible too because the shit only lasts for an hour, an hour-and-a-half.” He also made it clear that the combination of this kind of mental erosion in conjunction with the typical withdrawal symptoms associated with coming off opioids made these “the worst withdrawals I’ve ever had off of anything.”

In his search to stave off these horrible side effects, Love only found two options that worked: suboxone (a replacement that helps stave off withdrawals) and alcohol. In fact, it was due to the trio of suboxone, potions, and alcohol that led to Love almost losing his life in a tragic accident that occurred last summer.

After being put on probation, one of Love’s requirements was to stay in a sober living house. While doing what he could to follow the court’s orders, he took suboxone to stop any opioid-related problems. After a few weeks, he ran out of suboxone, which caused a whole list of symptoms. In order to “remain a good boy” as Love put it, he went to kratom. After a period of time, the extracts stopped working, so he returned to the potions. Because of how quickly the potions stopped being effective, the withdrawals became too much and without suboxone, Love turned to alcohol. The combination led him to stumble into the street, where he was hit by a car going 40 miles per hour. He’s lucky to be alive.

Knowing all of this about potions, along with my history of addiction, some could see my choices of making a potion purchase during one of my visits and taking it as being an incredibly stupid one. Don’t worry, being an addict for this long has taught me to be a bit cautious, so I only took one capsule. With keeping that small amount in consideration, I promise you that when it comes to this little nugget of doom, the effects come as advertised.

Within the first hour, I could see how incredibly addictive the capsules would become if taken regularly. When it went into full effect, the first thing I noticed was how similar it actually is to the feeling of a kratom high; it’s almost indistinguishable. In reality, the only difference between the two was in the level of intensity; one potion capsule gave me the same feeling as if I had taken triple my normal dosage of kratom. In other words, it will indeed take you higher than you could ever have anticipated. In total it lasted for four hours with only one side-effect—one MAJOR side-effect.

The next morning when I woke up, there was a problem with my mind; I felt like I had the “pre-brain buzz.” Anyone who has ever taken antidepressants for an extended period of time and then stopped taking them for a few days knows what I mean by brain-buzzing. The entire morning my brain felt like it was out of sorts. Thoughts were hard to construct, and occasionally I would get a brief wave of what felt like a blood rush. Knowing what I know about the chemical makeup of what I had ingested made these side effects just that much more terrifying.

Something should be done. Thankfully there’s already a plan that might work … kind of.

Beginning on July 1, 2024, Colorado kratom dealers will have to follow the letter of the new law known as SB22-120, or the "Regulation of Kratom Processors Act." The part of the law could be problematic for potions as it states that it will be illegal to “sell a kratom product that does not have a label that sets forth the identity and address of the manufacturer and the full list of ingredients in the kratom product.” Though I do believe it will have a positive effect on minimizing the potential for chemical confusion, I don’t think it gets to the root of the problem.

When I asked Love if he felt potions should be made illegal, especially considering that he’s stopped taking them since the night of the accident, he made an insightful argument against this form of legislation. “No. Potions are always going to be around because there’s always going to be some sort of concoction that they’re going to make that’s legal. Look what happened with spice. They were constantly banning chemicals and constantly making new chemicals to replace it.”

He isn’t wrong.

We’ve seen through the failures of the decades-long war on drugs that people aren’t going to be forced into quitting an addiction. Realistically, for someone to truly get clean, they need to do it of their own volition. For that, we need to focus on harm management while increasing the appeal of admitting oneself into an effective rehabilitation center that will provide the tools to succeed. One country that has utilized these tactics with much success is Portugal, which, in 2000 legalized all drugs for personal usage and re-focused the system towards personal accountability instead of overt punitive actions.

It’s working. For example, between 1998 and 2011, the number of people in drug treatment increased by 60%. This, along with them instituting safe consumption sites, has saved hundreds of thousands of lives over the course of the law changes.

So maybe the Kratom Processors Act is a foreshadowing of legal maneuvers to come? Maybe this will be the start of tackling the legal gray area that exists when it comes to these homemade chemical brews, thereby clamping down on loopholes?

I wouldn’t know.

When I contacted seven different Colorado defense attorneys to be interviewed for this article about how SB22-120 could close these legal loopholes when it comes to allowing a drug like potions to be readily available, every one of them refused to discuss it. And when I contacted District Attorney Beth McCann’s office requesting the same question be answered, I was declined comment and told there had never been any cases involving potions and to contact the health department. This is interesting given that Love was given a citation for jaywalking the night of his accident, but I digress.

In reality, there’s no right answer when it comes to fighting the disease of addiction. For people like me, harm reduction is the way to go. For others, zero tolerance must be issued as they are unable to handle taking anything stronger than ibuprofen. However, no matter the solutions available, there will always be people who are stuck in an active-using cycle, and they shouldn’t be forgotten. I feel one of the best ways to remember them is by making sure that whatever legal(ly dubious) drugs they might take, they (at the very least) know what they are about to ingest.

At the end of the day, I promise you that nothing good will come to an addict when they take some mystery chemical that they know nothing about; the fallout is too great. I know because I lost a friend that way …