Like kratom itself, a new documentary from Chris Bell feels a little scammy. The shooting, animation, and narrative structure of A Leaf of Faith are sloppy; the tone veers between boosterish infomercial and conspiracy theorizing about big pharma.
Kratom, a leaf from Southeast Asia, is available over the counter in the United States, often sold under ridiculous names in brightly colored envelopes. Users say it treats pain, improves mood or focus, and helps manage opioid addiction. Similar to marijuana, its advocates—many of whom drift in and out of the film without too much introduction—point to a wide array of asserted therapeutic benefits, very low side effects, the near-impossibility of overdose, and the fact that it's natural.
Despite its slapdash feel, the documentary does address most of the major issues around the drug, which is still relatively new to the U.S., including use by veterans, adulteration, polydrug poisoning (many deaths attributed to kratom actually involve people mixing substances), and the particular susceptibility of addicts to a flashy sell on a quick fix. Kratom's full potential is unclear, but one thing Bell gets right is the importance of avoiding hasty, ill-informed prohibition.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "A Leaf of Faith".