The FDA is warning Americans to stay away from kratom, calling its use as an opioid replacement or to treat opioid withdrawals "extremely concerning" and citing 36 deaths connected to the substance, Reuters reports. According to the Verge, kratom is a plant grown in Southeast Asia and used there for centuries. It's taken recreationally for its euphoric effects, as a dietary supplement, to treat anxiety and depression, and more. It's also increasingly being used to treat opioid withdrawals, states the FDA, which warns of liver damage, seizures, addiction, and death. The FDA isn't saying over how long a period those 36 deaths occurred, but data shows 10 times more calls to poison control centers regarding kratom between 2010 and 2015.
Advocates say kratom can ease pain and make it easier to get through opioid withdrawals. Jessica Bardoulas of the American Osteopathic Association tells USA Today there's "anecdotal and scientific evidence indicating kratom could be an effective opioid alternative." But the DEA nearly made kratom a Schedule 1 drug, the same as heroin and marijuana, last year, and the FDA is currently trying to stop shipments of kratom from entering the US while it works on increasing regulatory oversight. "While we remain open to the potential medicinal uses of kratom, those uses must be backed by sound science and weighed appropriately against the potential for abuse," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says in a public health advisory.