Content Warning: This article openly discusses the use of kava kava, Kratom, and CBD. Be aware if these are triggers for you.

Recently, my friend started drinking again after two years of sobriety. I’m sad, but not surprised. 

My friend was addicted to Kratom, a substance that’s marketed to those who have a history of substance use disorder as not really a drug. Kratom is a plant; much like cocaine. It’s a relative of the coffee family; just like the eggplant is a relative of deadly nightshade. It’s touted for pain relief; so is fentanyl. And it’s thought of as a miracle cure for opioid addiction.

My friend was using kratom every day. I assumed he would drink again… because I did it, too.

A little further up the slippery slope are kava kava and CBD. When I was asking myself or others if these are okay to use, I was heading in the wrong direction. It wasn’t until later that I realized that, for me, the road to true recovery isn’t about pushing the limits of what you think you can get away with. 

I spent a lot of time and money at a kava kava and kratom bar in NYC. Although the flat screen would intermittently flash “people with a history of substance use disorder should refrain from taking our products,” every regular I knew there had a history. We would sit around getting “rooted” (not high on kava) nodding out on kratom tea, and doing shots of kratom concentrate mixed with Red Bull while discussing which 12-step meetings were best. We spent hundreds of dollars on this stuff we ingested so that we could feel different while congratulating each other on sobriety. One man told me his wife spent $1500.00 a week at a kava bar in Florida. I wondered: At that point, why not just buy the booze, coke, and pills you really want? 

That sounds extreme but, just like at a local bar, I constantly saw the same people there every time I went to the kava kava and kratom bar. 

Despite my strong statement above, I don’t consider kava a relapse. After all, it’s not really stronger than coffee, but with the opposite effect. However, the addictive behavior that it perpetuates can easily lead someone to deteriorate.

The first time I quit marijuana maintenance was the summer I frequented the kava bar. Marijuana was another substance that seemed harmless yet continually led me back to booze, cocaine, and tears. Once, I didn’t go for a few weeks to the kava bar and, as I walked back in, it dawned on me why — last time I had vomited on the floor after downing too much, too fast.

I wasn’t learning any new coping mechanisms. I got the drinks to go often as a buffer in social situations when joints were passed around or shots were offered. Whenever something I didn’t like happened, I went to the kava bar try to drown the discomfort.

The same thing is happening with CBD, the chemical compound that comes from the cannabis plant but won’t get you high. 

People have even tried to sell it to my dog. He’s not anxious, but the people selling it were. I’ve seen posts in sober facebook groups over and over in this format: 

  1. Something bad happened.
  2. I vaped CBD.
  3. I calmed down and called a friend.

There’s no difference in this structure when we seek chemical relief than if you insert the drug of choice, other than how altered the state of mind. It’s the same process. When we do these things, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to process our feelings. For me, nothing feels better than moving through a passing rain cloud with no “easy” button.

And what about caffeine and nicotine? Sugar? They aren’t ideal. I’ve cut processed sugar out of my diet and I feel much better. Caffeine and vaping are still happening. And they aren’t ideal, either. But I don’t need to add more poisons to them.

For me, nothing feels better than moving through a passing rain cloud with no chemical relief.

I was five months off weed and other substances and deep into my kava days when CBD hit the smoke shops near me. After what felt like lengthy deliberation, I bought a vape cartridge. The battery was the same one I used to vape weed. The cartridge, identical. The ritual, the reason, all the same. 

Within a month, I was eating an entire 150 mg THC chocolate bar someone offered me at a dinner and passing out for 18 hours. But not before buying beer. A year would go by before I attempted anything like sobriety again.

Kava, Kratom, CBD, whatever else will be isolated, appropriated, or conceived of in a lab are not worth it. They are marketed as “cure-alls” without the proper research to back the claims. And they perpetuate our addictions and maladaptive coping mechanisms.  All roads of self-medication lead back to our drug of choice. I won’t say it’s really a relapse but I will say that it can potentially lead you to one.

These days, I’m happier when I’m spending that money instead on travel, crystals, vain attempts at looking younger — literally anything else. And when I can allow unwanted emotions to move through me, to know that they won’t kill me and that they will pass, because they always do, then I know I have gone deeper into my pain and brought more into the light. That’s what healing is, and healing is what we are all on this earth to do.

Kava, kratom, and CBD aren’t worth it. Sobriety is. And, most importantly, you are.