The State of Kratom Cafes

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In the midst of a state-by-state debate over the fate of kratom, an unlikely venue has become a source for safe consumption: Kratom cafes. 

More Americans are looking for alternatives not only to opioids and other prescription medications, but also to the typical experience of ‘going out’ being centered around alcohol. That’s where kratom cafes, some also dubbed as bars, come into play. And with local governments across the country now taking up the kratom debate, these establishments are looking to provide an example of what responsible consumption can look like in a society that embraces natural medical alternatives. 

Kratom’s popularity in the United States has come under scrutiny in recent years as many have turned to the active ingredients in the herb as an alternative for highly addictive opioids. But while Congress has called for further research and regulation, and states like Colorado have instigated infrastructures for controlling local markets, others have opted to ban the substance. 

Kratom cafes are trying to normalize the substance, even in areas that have opted for prohibition. 

San Diego is one of the handful of municipalities across the country who prohibits the manufacture and sale of kratom, per an ordinance approved in 2016. That still hasn’t stopped the Kratom Kava Bar, who is filling the void with kratom they boast as “lab tested” without fillers. Visitors are enticed with the promise of the “first sober bar in California where Southern Comfort meets plant medicine.” 

What they share in common with typical bars is an age-restricted customer base and customer service in an attempt to help customers safely consume the substances being sold. 

And it’s a trend that’s spreading from coast to coast. In North Carolina, Sovereign Kava has a number of kratom options on its menu of non-alcoholic offerings. Beyond simply providing consumption options for natural substances, Sovereign Kava offers patrons live music, open mic nights and other social experiences that are traditionally tied to alcohol consumption. 

The bar is also dog friendly and hosts events on a regular basis. It’s part of pushing society to embrace natural medicines, as it has alcohol and other substances, by using the same social structures already associated with ‘going out’. General manager Tom Scheve told the Asheville Citizen Times that he’s been pleasantly surprised with how this new approach has been received so far. 

“Oddly enough, this place is way more social than an alcohol bar,” Scheve said. “I wouldn’t have ever believed that such a thing was possible. In fact, if you’d have told me, ‘We’re going to a nonalcoholic bar’ — that sounds terrible to me, and I don’t even drink alcohol. But this place is extremely social, especially before the pandemic.”

In other places, kratom cafes have come together as part of a culture that is trying to embrace the substance while establishing a safe infrastructure for consumption. 

Colorado is one of the few states that has legalized and regulated kratom, when governor Jared Polis signed the “Regulation of Kratom Processors” act into law earlier this year. The law, which will go into effect on July 1, 2024, regulates kratom products, processors and retailers, and sets parameters for both legal and civil enforcement of the law. In addition to making it a crime to knowingly promote “a kratom product that is adulterated with fentanyl or any other controlled substance”, the law requires that manufactures and ingredients be clearly identified and makes it illegal to be sold to anyone under the age of 21.

The law will also catch policy up with the practice of local businesses, like Colorado’s own kratom cafe. 

Nick Moodley opened the Kratom Cafe in Arvada, Colo., two years ago, after discovering the herb as part of recovery from a motorcycle accident. Moodley told the Arvada Press that it was his way of minimizing potential risk of addiction. Due to his personal success story, Moodley decided to open up the cafe as a way of providing the same options for others in his position. Moodley told the Arvada Press that he encourages others to consult with their doctors before any sort of specific treatment plans, but also said that he feels kratom is a substance that is misunderstood by those who have never experienced it. 

Through his cafe, and others like it, Moodley is hoping more people can gain a better understanding of what the substance is capable of. 

“Kratom seems to be the most stigmatized,” Moodley said. “Most people think that it’s just for ex-addicts or people who are addicted to opiates. I don’t think that quite sums it up. I would say a lot of older people use kratom as a holistic alternative because they have the same mindset where they don’t want to risk any type of dependency from certain medications.”

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