Kratom Is an Opioid, FDA Warns


“Today, we’re providing details of some of the important scientific tools, data and research that have contributed to the FDA’s concerns about kratom’s potential for abuse, addiction, and serious health consequences; including death,” Gottlieb said.

Kratom is a plant native to Malaysia and the leaves are traditionally crushed and made into tea to treat pain as well as heroin or morphine dependence and possibly reduce withdrawal cravings, according to a report in CNN. It’s sold online and in shops as powders and pills, among other formulations, and has been loosely regulated by the FDA.

Related: Here’s How Pro Athletes Check Their Supplements for Banned Substances

Gottlieb said the FDA has been especially concerned about kratom’s use to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms, and warned against it. “There is no reliable evidence to support the use of kratom as a treatment for opioid use disorder and significant safety issues exist,” he said.

The FDA previously warned that kratom use is linked with serious side effects including seizures and respiratory depression. Last year, the agency reported that 36 deaths had been associated with its use, and in yesterday’s announcement, Gottlieb updated the figure to 44 deaths.

“These reports underscore the serious and sometimes deadly risks of using kratom and the potential interactions associated with this drug,” he said, including one death in which the person had no known history of opioid use.

Related: FDA Issues Warning Against Kratom, a Plant-Based Substance With Deadly Side Effects

Kratom should not be used to treat medical conditions, Gottlieb said, adding, “There is no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use.”

NBC reports that the American Kratom Association said the FDA is biased against the product.

But Gottlieb warned that claiming it’s harmless because it’s “just a plant” is shortsighted and dangerous. He noted that heroin — an illegal, dangerous, and highly-addictive substance containing the opioid morphine — is also derived from the seed pod of opium poppy plants.

“As the scientific data and adverse event reports have clearly revealed, compounds in kratom make it so it isn’t just a plant — it’s an opioid,” Gottlieb said.

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