Federal health officials have issued a public health advisory about kratom, a botanical supplement that has been promoted as a safe alternative to opioids for pain relief and as an aide in treating addiction.
The Food and Drug Administration said that there is growing evidence that the supplement is dangerous.
Kratom is a plant that grows naturally in Malaysia, Mynamar, Thailand, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. It has been used in traditional medicine since at least the 19th century. The plant may be purchased in leaf form, but it is more commonly purchased as a capsule filled with powdered leaf material. The effects of kratom come on rather quickly and usually last between five and seven hours. At low doses it acts as a stimulant, while at higher doses it can have sedative or psychoactive effects. It is not an opiate, but it does bind to the same receptor sites in the brains that opioids do.
Users and proponents of the supplement say that it is safe and effective, and that more research should be done to support their positive experiences with the drug. Online forums are flooded with testimonials by individuals who claim that kratom helped them turn their lives around from addiction. One Reddit user writes, “Kratom got me to stop drinking a bottle of vodka a day. These are the stories we need to share.”
In a statement released on Tuesday FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. explained, “Calls to U.S. poison control centers regarding kratom have increased 10-fold from 2010 to 2015, with hundreds of calls made each year. The FDA is aware of reports of 36 deaths associated with the use of kratom-containing products.”
The FDA has begun seizing supplies of kratom and taking steps to prevent future shipments from being imported into the United States. The herb is already banned in several states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee and Wisconsin
Gottlieb went on to say, “As a physician and FDA Commissioner, I stand committed to doing my part to prevent illegal substances that pose a threat to public health from taking their grip on Americans. While we remain open to the potential medicinal uses of kratom, those uses must be backed by sound-science and weighed appropriately against the potential for abuse.”
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