FDA declares kratom unsafe 'opioid,' supporters of kratom disagree: 6 insights

The FDA released a statement warning that the popular herbal supplement kratom has opioid properties and is not a safe alternative to prescription opioids.

Here are six things to know:

1. FDA scientists used a 3-D computer model to analyze the chemical structure of 25 of the most prevalent ingredients in kratom, concluding that these molecules are similar to those found in controlled opioid analgesics.

2. The researchers then used the computational model to determine the path these chemicals might take in the body. The findings predicted that 22 of the 25 analyzed compounds would bind strongly to specific opioid receptors, affecting the body just like opioids.

3. The statement was also based on a review of the kratom-related literature, but did not specifically address previous research demonstrating that when tested on cells in lab dishes, some of these compounds only partially activated certain opioid receptors

4. The statement cited potential kratom side effects and pointed to 44 reported deaths associated with kratom use. The FDA also released reports from November 2017, at which time it reported 36 deaths associated with kratom.

5. Kratom advocates have argued that these cases involved drugs other than kratom.

6. The FDA said this new information may influence whether kratom remains legal. Spokeswoman Katherine Pfaff said that a number of states have banned kratom, but it remains a legal substance on the federal level. 

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