FDA issues recall of controversial herb: What you need to know about kratom

For many years, the leaves of the kratom tree have been used in Southeast Asia to treat aches and pains. Here in the US, it can be purchased in the form of a powder, pill or tea -- and it doesn't require a prescription.

Now, the FDA has issued a mandatory recall for kratom supplements made by Triangle Pharmaceuticals LLC because some of the supplements tested positive for salmonella.

According to the experts at Consumer Reports, there are reportedly millions who use the controversial herb in the United States.

"The research that's been done indicates that people are using kratom to help alleviate chronic pain, to treat mood disorders, like anxiety and depression, and in some cases to help wean themselves off of opioids," said Consumer Reports health expert Jeneen Interlandi.

But the FDA said kratom isn't just a plant -- it's an opioid. And they warn it can be dangerous, even fatal -- associating it with more than three dozen deaths. Consumer Reports also has concerns, because like any supplement, kratom is not regulated.

"Any given kratom product can be grossly mislabeled. It can be laced with other substances, including illegal drugs or prescription medications. It can interact with other medications that you are taking in ways that are really dangerous," Interlandi said.

The DEA has listed kratom as a "drug and chemical of concern" and at one point wanted to put it in the same category as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy -- essentially banning it for consumers.

But the American Kratom Association argues that making the substance illegal could drive more people to prescription painkillers or illegal drugs to treat their symptoms.

The organization said they'll support appropriate FDA regulations to ensure the safety and purity of kratom, but not a ban. The DEA is currently reviewing data and public comments.

"It could be several months to a few years before they render a decision. In the meantime, Consumer Reports really feels that given the lack of regulations it's better for consumers to just avoid this product altogether," Interlandi said.

If you are in pain, but looking to avoid prescription painkillers, experts said there are a number of options you can consider, including over the counter drugs and alternative therapies like acupuncture.

Talk to your doctor about which ones make the most sense for you.
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