Federal health officials have released a new study that suggests the herbal supplement Kratom may not be safe for medicinal purposes, indicating that the chemical compounds of the supplement are similar to opioid painkillers, which are highly addictive and often abused.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a Kratom warning on February 6, citing new research that indicates the herbal supplement has been linked to dozens of deaths. The FDA warns that kratom products may possess chemicals that bind to the user’s body receptors, similarly to opioids.
Kratom is a plant that is native to Asia in which its leaves are taken and crushed to be made into tea or taken orally as an herbal supplement. Although the supplement is loosely regulated by the FDA, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found the herb has become increasingly popular across the United States over recent years.
According to the CDC, researchers reviewed data from the National Poison Data System (DPDS) case records from January 2010 through December 2015 and found records indicating the number of calls to poison centers for Kratom increased 10-fold, from 26 in 2010 to 263 in 2015, with about 75% of the calls coming from healthcare providers.
The FDA warns that very little is known about the potential side effects from the use of Kratom and that the herbal supplement has not been approved for medicinal purposes.
Through the use of the agency’s Public Health Assessment via Structural Evaluation (PHASE) methodology, researchers were able to use a 3-D computer to see how the chemical constituents of a Kratom are broken down on a molecular level, and to see how the chemicals impact the consumer’s body.
FDA researchers found that 22 of the 25 compounds in Kratom bind to mu-opioid receptors, making the supplement’s compounds similar to opioid properties.
Researchers further found that some Kratom compounds may bind to the receptors in the brain that contribute to stress responses. As a result, they could impact neurologic and cardiovascular functions some believe to be related to adverse health consequences, such as seizures and respiratory depression.
The FDA has received reports of at least 44 deaths associated with the use of Kratom through its Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS). The agency indicates that further research and regulations may be needed to ensure the product is not used for medicinal or recreational purposes.
In 2016, the U.S. Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) proposed a rule in the Federal Register to temporarily list Kratom as a Schedule I controlled substance, along with heroin and other highly addictive and dangerous drugs. The proposed rule was declined by Congress, forcing the DEA to withdraw its plan and call on the FDA to perform a scientific review of Kratom.