Kratom, a Southeast Asian plant known for its opiate-like effects, may put users at risk of addiction and even death, the US Food and Drug Administration said in a public health advisory today. "The use of kratom is also associated with serious side effects like seizures, liver damage and withdrawal symptoms". "Calls to USA poison control centers regarding kratom have increased 10-fold from 2010 to 2015, with hundreds of calls made each year", said FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb in a statement.
Advocates say kratom can ease pain and make it easier to get through opioid withdrawals.
The scientific research about kratom and its potential medical uses are very limited, but evidence of its risks are clear.
The FDA said it is working to prevent shipments of kratom in the United States and has detained hundreds of these packages at worldwide mail facilities. "The FDA is aware of reports of 36 deaths associated with the use of kratom-containing products".
"There have been reports of kratom being laced with other opioids like hydrocodone".
"The FDA is concerned about harmful unapproved products that have been crossing our borders in increasing numbers", Gottlieb wrote in a statement. But it's now taken as a recreational drug, with its users saying it treats anxiety, depression and opioid withdrawal.
Rather, he said, evidence shows that the herb has similar effects to narcotics like opioids, "and carries similar risks of abuse, addiction and, in some cases, death".
In this photo illustration, capsules of the herbal supplement Kratom are seen on May 10, 2016 in Miami, Florida. Last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration stepped back from taking action pending an FDA review.
Kratom is already a controlled substance in 16 countries worldwide and is also banned in states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
"We've learned a tragic lesson from the opioid crisis: that we must pay early attention to the potential for new products to cause addiction and we must take strong, decisive measures to intervene", said Gottlieb in his prepared remarks.
"I understand that there's a lot of interest in the possibility for kratom to be used as a potential therapy for a range of disorders", Gottlieb added. Hundreds of shipments have been detained and product has been seized and destroyed. Until someone does the science the agency is requesting, the FDA will attempt to prevent shipments of kratom from entering the US. Currently, there appeared to be no companies reviewing kratom to be used for medicinal purposes.