Chris Bell is an award-winning documentary maker who has investigated the reality of subjects ranging from doping in the athletic world (Bigger, Stronger, Faster), to the rampant abuse of pharmaceuticals in the U.S. pushed by the very health care system that is supposed to help (Prescription Thugs).
Now available on Netflix is his latest documentary, A Leaf of Faith, in which Chris delves into the opiate crisis ravaging the U.S. and Canada, and the age-old natural solution that millions around the world have found in the natural plant Kratom.
Over the last 10 years, more than 200,000 deaths and millions of more overdoses were caused by opioids. Chris traces back this deathly epidemic to the very real human problem of chronic pain, combined with an over-prescription of addictive substances by a profit-driven health care system.
In North America, 1 in 3 people suffers from a form of chronic pain. For most people, the first recourse of dealing with chronic pain is to see a doctor or go to the hospital. Medical science responds to this problem with the best solution they have: pain-killers or opioids. These substances affect the central nervous system, where pain receptors are located.
These solutions, while effective, have serious side-effects and abuse potential. Over time, tolerance builds up, which translates into people needing more and more opioids to get the same effect. The increased dosage and frequency then starts affecting other parts of the central nervous system such as heartbeat and breathing. Respiratory failure is the leading cause of death in these cases.
A Natural Hope
Chris Bell comes from the world of competitive body-building and is no stranger to substance abuse, which he explored in his previous documentaries. Having lost his own brother Mike due to an opiate overdose, and dealing with his own opiate demons to combat chronic pain due to powerlifting injuries, he came across a natural solution that has helped thousands before him: the natural plant Kratom.
The Kratom tree is native to Southeast Asia and is a part of the Rubiaceae family, which includes the coffee plant. Traditionally, Indonesian farmers figured out that chewing the leaves of brewing them into tea would help them combat fatigue and support them in their physical work in the blistering sun.
Kratom leaves are said to carry specific alkaloids that reportedly can relieve pain, boost energy levels, and in many cases can help people wean off opioids. An added benefit is a dopamine spike that is known to reduce social anxiety and symptoms of PTSD. All this, seemingly, without the dangerous side effects of opiates.
A 360° Perspective
Chris shares his own experience with the plant, and how it has helped him tremendously with his chronic pain. This increased effect of well-being has reflected in a better feeling of health, elevated mood, and general motivation and productivity. Not just Chris, but also his friends and family notice how much happier and healthier he is. As such, he is a firm believer in the plant’s positive effects.
Later in the documentary, Chris interviews experts in the field who back up his personal experience with science and research. One of the experts is Christopher McCurdy, Ph.D., Medicinal Chemistry, University of Georgia College of Pharmacy, who is researching how the chemistry of Kratom interacts with human chemistry and how it can possibly be applied in treating addiction issues.
Another scientific perspective comes from Jane Babin, a lawyer and Ph.D. in molecular biology, whose research indicates that the current understanding on Kratom indicates it is a safe and effective solution with real-life potential into helping people with pain and addiction issues.
People who have experienced the benefits of Kratom are overwhelmingly in favour of having this natural solution available. When the D.E.A. opened up a period for public comment on Kratom back in 2016, out of the 23,000 people who responded, 99.1% of this group were overwhelmingly pro-Kratom, with strong support from doctors, scientists, law enforcement, health care professionals and seniors.
While Kratom has overwhelming support from the majority, there are also a handful of people that oppose this plant, and consider banning and criminalizing its use to be the logical and appropriate next steps. One of these individuals is F.D.A.’s commissioner Scott Gottlieb. He argues that Kratom is sometimes used in a medical context, and as such, it should go through the same testing process as pharmaceutical drugs. The catch therein is that this process was originally set up for pharmaceutical companies to patent and test their man-made inventions.
As Kratom is a natural plant, it cannot be patented, so the financial incentive for profit-driven pharmaceutical companies to do the research is non-existent. Moreover, the positive effects of Kratom offer an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs to Millions of users around the world, which threatens the profits made off painkillers such as Oxycontin and fentanyl. From that perspective, it is logical for the pharmaceutical lobby to push back against the acceptance of a natural, safe, effective, easily available and low-cost alternative.
In this way, Kratom is in a similar place as cannabis has been for many years. Virtually everyone who has any noteworthy real-life experience knows it to work well and be safe, but as it is a traditional plant medicine, it is only recently beginning to find its place in Western society.
The bottom line of the opponents of Kratom is that, although there have been some very promising studies into the psychopharmaceutical properties of Kratom, there have yet to be done definitive clinical tests on human, that could scientifically prove the effects and effectiveness and potential side-effects of Kratom. For now, what we have to go on is people’s personal experience, a tradition that spans multiple centuries, and very promising research into the effects of Kratom.
Furthermore, it is generally agreed that there must be an increase in regulations regarding product authenticity and quality, and that accurate product labelling should be put in place.
The documentary A Leaf of Faith aims to boost public awareness about Kratom by presenting a balanced 360° view of its benefits and downsides, it’s proponents and opponents. Ultimately, Chris recommends Kratom fully but welcomes further studies and trials.
The traditional use of this plant medicine spans several centuries. Many millions of people’s experiences in the present day are overwhelmingly positive, with the number of adverse events being statistically insignificant. As such, Chris’ message is that he believes Kratom to be part of a natural health solution that can offer a hopeful solution to one of society’s biggest problems today.
While further study is recommended, the research and experiences we have available so far are cause enough for us take this ‘Leaf of Faith’.
Title: A Leaf of Faith
Directors: Chris Bell
Release Date: May 29, 2018
Running Time: 108 minutes
Screenwriter: Chris Bell
Trailer link: https://vimeo.com/238284603
Netflix link: https://www.netflix.com/title/81009815
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