Researchers have investigated COVID-19’s effects on the global kratom supply chain. Their findings, published in late November, examined the pandemic’s early stage between March and May 2020.
As seems appropriate in the COVID-19 era, various researchers around the world authored the study. However, rather than testing a hypothesis, the researchers drew their conclusions from interviewing individuals in the kratom industry. Their interviewees included Southeast Asian kratom farmers, global vendors, and users in Malaysia and the United States.
In Malaysia, kratom farmers found it difficult to market their kratom harvests after COVID-19 hit. Shelter-in-place orders and travel restrictions prevented them from selling kratom to locals, including those using kratom to treat existing substance use disorders. Local kratom sales also decreased after some Malaysian labourers lost their income.
By comparison, COVID-19’s impact on the inventory of global kratom vendors has been less severe, according to the authors. They wrote that “The majority of vendors have not seen changes in supplies of kratom products since December 2019.” Nonetheless, some vendors expected eventual supply disruptions, and some had increased their stock in anticipation. Meanwhile, vendors selling almost exclusively to brick-and-mortar stores experienced a decrease in demand but expected sales volume to normalize.
The researchers also consulted the experiences of forty-two American kratom users. They found that while COVID-19 hadn’t reduced their access to kratom, most users anticipated future shortages. But despite these uncertainties, the high cost of buying kratom in bulk prevented most American users from stockpiling the plant. Their motivations for kratom use during the COVID-19 outbreak included relief from stress, anxiety, depression, or substance use disorder (SUD) symptoms. American kratom users also noticed an increase in vendors claiming that their products could prevent or treat COVID-19.
Having examined American kratom users’ experiences during the pandemic’s first wave, the authors turned towards the future. They predicted that upcoming supply disruptions could harm those who use kratom for SUDs and COVID-related distress. In some cases, they believed a lack of kratom could motivate users to try other, more harmful drugs. They also foresaw American agencies like the FDA or DEA using an increase in kratom-related harm during the pandemic to rationalize a ban.
“…There are an estimated 10–15 million kratom users in the US, meaning that disruptions for even a small proportion of regular users could result in an outsized effect,” the researchers concluded. “Further information is also needed to improve our understanding on how the impact of COVID-19 is affecting kratom users.”