Cannabis isn't the only herbal remedy that folks use for alternative treatment in Colorado, as herbs such as kava and kratom become more popular for their euphoric and pain-relieving effects. Colorado Herbal Imports, a retail shop selling kratom and other imported herbs, is doubling down on Denver's need for leafy remedies with a second location in Glendale.
Colorado Herbal Imports opened its first store in Littleton less than a year ago, in September 2016. The shop specializes in ceremonial, medicinal and traditional herbs including gotu kola, kava, kratom, yerba mate and wormwood that were hard to find in brick-and-mortar establishments. The new store, at 4340 East Kentucky Avenue, is an extension of the first, selling similar herbal products at a more centralized location.
"The Littleton shop was doing so well after six months that we thought it was time to expand," says store manager Eric Roy. "We looked in Capitol Hill, but decided the Cherry Creek area was a good spot in the middle of Denver."
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Kratom has become a popular remedy for anxiety, chronic pain, opioid-withdrawal symptoms and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some users also consume it as a stimulant, according to Roy. A relative of the coffee plant, kratom is traditionally consumed by chewing its leaves or brewing it into a tea.
However, the plant isn't without its detractors, notably in the federal government. Kratom is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Drug Enforcement Administration tried to classify it as a Schedule 1 drug in August 2016. The public backlash against the proposed classification was strong and swift, though, with around 140,000 people signing a White House petition against the DEA's proposal and a group of 51 U.S. senators and representatives sending a letter to Chuck Rosenberg, acting head of the DEA. The DEA withdrew its proposal in October, calling for more public input on the subject.
The DEA attributed fifteen deaths to kratom between 2014 and 2016, but fourteen of the people who died had other drugs or illegal substances in their systems. Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, the active ingredients in kratom that bind to the same brain receptors as opioids, can cause pain relief and euphoria for users, but studies are limited.
Roy says the store's kratom, imported from Indonesia, is the most popular product at Colorado Herbal Imports, but there are plenty of other worldly herbs that customers have taken a liking to. Regulars like to buy yerba mate, or leaves and stems of holly trees that are brewed into a popular stimulating tea, and consume them from the yerba mate gourd for traditional Eastern effects. Kava roots from the Pacific Islands, which are powdered or shredded for tea, are also a popular choice because of their relaxing, mind-bending effects, he explains.