(HealthDay News) — The popular botanical drug kratom essentially is an opioid, the US Food and Drug Administration declared Tuesday.

Nearly all of kratom’s major compounds bind to opioid receptors in the human brain, and 2 of the top 5 most prevalent compounds activate those receptors, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. In addition, there have been 44 reported deaths associated with the use of kratom, often in combination with other substances, Gottlieb said.

Kratom grows naturally in the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. It has been sold as a dietary supplement to help manage pain and boost energy. “Kratom should not be used to treat medical conditions, nor should it be used as an alternative to prescription opioids,” Gottlieb said. “There is no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use.”

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Concerns over kratom have been growing in recent years. For example, calls to poison centers regarding kratom increased 10-fold between 2010 and 2015, rising from 26 to 263, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than one-third of the poison center calls reported use of kratom in combination with other substances, such as illicit drugs, prescription opioids or over-the-counter medications, the CDC said.


Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, on the agency’s scientific evidence on the presence of opioid compounds in kratom, underscoring its potential for abuse [news release]. US Food & Drug Administration (FDA). February 6, 2018. Accessible at: https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm595622.htm