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Herbal supplement gains popularity despite FDA concerns

February 20, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — An herbal supplement known as kratom is becoming popular in some North Dakota communities despite concerns from the Federal Drug Administration, which has linked it to dozens of deaths in recent years.

Kratom has been marketed to help relieve pain, depression and anxiety, The Bismarck Tribune reported . Proponents say it can also be used to treat opioid withdrawal, but the FDA says there’s no evidence to support that claim.

Abraham Sticha, 19, started using kratom to help manage a problem with prescription pills.

“It’s an all-natural, safe alternative to some of the worst drugs out there,” he said.

Sticha said kratom has a similar effect on him as coffee. He typically mixes the herbal supplement with orange juice and drinks it once every four to six hours. He’ll sometimes get a headache if he misses a dose.

The FDA has linked the supplement to 44 deaths since 2011. Kratom side effects include seizures and depression.

“The scientific evidence we’ve evaluated about kratom provides a clear picture of the biologic effect of this substance,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. “Kratom should not be used to treat medical conditions, nor should it be used as an alternative to prescription opioids.”

The American Kratom Association has disputed the FDA’s findings, saying kratom is an herbal substance similar to tea and coffee and isn’t a drug. The association estimates that 3 million to 5 million people in the U.S. use kratom.

Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee and Wisconsin have made the substance illegal.

The herbal supplement comes from the tropical tree Mitragyna speciosa, which is found in Southeast Asia, mainly Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The tree’s leaves are turned into powder, which can be steeped in tea or made into capsules.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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