FDA Strengthens Warning About Kratom, Saying Herb is an Opioid

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) boosted its warning about kratom. The agency said that the results of new research indicated the unregulated herb has “opioid properties.” It has also been associated with numerous deaths.

FDA “Confident” in Calling Kratom an Opioid

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stated recently that the Agency feels confident in “calling compounds found in kratom, opioids.” The FDA came to its conclusion based on recent computational modeling, scientific literature and reports of adverse effects on people. He added that the new data reinforced the Agency’s concerns about kratom’s “potential for abuse, addiction and serious health hazards, including death.”

Possible Addiction Treatment

Kratom is imported from Southeast Asia. The product, which is marketed as a supplement, is being bought by consumers looking for relief from anxiety, depression and pain. It is also being used to treat opioid-withdrawal symptoms. Some researchers are studying whether kratom can be used to treat addiction. Other experts warn that the supplement, which is available in capsule form or used as a tea, is simply too risky to use.

No FDA-approved Uses for Kratom

Commissioner Gottlieb stated in November 2017 that there are no FDA-approved uses for kratom. The Agency now knows of 44 deaths related to kratom which took place between April 2011 and December 2017. In one instance, the deceased had no history of opioid use, “except for kratom.”

In many of the cases, the deceased had used kratom in conjunction with other drugs. This fact makes it difficult for authorities to determine the actual cause of death. Kratom supporters say that the government has blamed it on deaths due to other substances. The new death, which occurred in the absence of other substances, reinforces the FDA’s concerns about kratom’s safety.

FDA scientists analyzed the 25 most-common compounds in kratom. They concluded that all of them share “most structural similarities” with opioid pain medications. The model also showed that 22 of the compounds bind to opioid receptors in the brain, as well as to stress reponses “that impact neurological and cardiovascular function.” The Agency had previously warned the public about kratom’s side effects, which include respiratory depression and seizures.

Concern Kratom Users May Return to Opioids

Jack Henningfield, an addiction specialist with the drug policy group Pinney Associates, said that surveys of kratom users had revealed that many of them had been taking the supplement as a tool to stop using opioids. Mr. Henningfield argued that kratom use presents a lower risk than opioids. He stated that restricting or banning kratom use could push some people toward the black market to buy kratom or even make them start using opioids again.