Chris Bell: Kratom Is the Cure for the Opioid Epidemic


A plant called kratom could be the cure for the opioid epidemic, but the DEA wants to ban it. We sat down with filmmaker Chris Bell (Bigger, Stronger, Faster; Prescription Thugs) to discuss his new documentary about kratom (A Leaf of Faith), performance-enhancing drugs, marijuana, Prince’s death, why Lance Armstrong got screwed, and more.

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“I think kratom is the cure for the opioid epidemic,” says Chris Bell, the acclaimed documentary filmmaker behind 2008’s Bigger, Stronger, Faster and 2015’s Prescription Thugs.

A plant native to Southeast Asia, kratom can relieve pain and provide a caffeine-like boost. Its most exciting application, however, is weaning addicts off heroin and prescription painkillers. Though the scientific literature is thin, users have been safely ingesting the plant for centuries. Despite kratom’s promise, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) claims that it poses an “imminent hazard to public safety” and tried to prohibit most clinical research on it.

In August 2016, the DEA sought to ban the plant without public input by listing it as Schedule I drug alongside the likes of heroin, though it backed off after the community rose up in protest, apparently taking the agency by surprise.

Chris Bell spent months interviewing kratom’s advocates and detractors for his new film, A Leaf of Faith. He talked to teenagers who have overcome depression, vets who have found relief from debilitating PTSD, and nine-to-fivers who take refuge from their everyday stresses with a cup of kratom tea.

A Leaf of Faith, like most of Bell’s films, is also a personal story. His two brothers were avid power lifters and bodybuilders, and he filmed Bigger, Stronger, Faster as his older sibling, Mad Dog, was descending into his darkest period of abuse. Bell, who had always resisted drugs, turned the camera on himself in Prescription Thugs to reveal his own struggles with addiction.

“Now there’s something on the market that’s safe, that can stop things from happening like my brother dying, and these asshole politicians want to [ban it],” Bell told Reason’s Justin Monticello.

In a wide-ranging interview, he also discussed his views on performance-enhancing drugs, marijuana, Prince’s death, the Food and Drug Administration, abstinence-only approaches to managing addiction, and why he thinks Lance Armstrong got screwed.

Produced by Justin Monticello. Cameras by Paul Detrick and Alex Manning. Music by StrangeZero (…), Ethan Meixsell (…), Topher Mohr and Alex Elena (…), and Kevin MacLeod (…).

Feather Waltz by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (…)