(Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned on Tuesday about the usage of kratom, citing reports of 36 deaths, and said there is no reliable evidence to support its use to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Kratom, which is a naturally growing plant in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, is increasingly being used to treat pain, anxiety, depression and opioid addiction in the United States, at a time when the country is already battling an ongoing opioid epidemic.
Kratom has similar effects to narcotics like opioids and carries similar risks of abuse, addiction and in worst cases, death, the FDA noted.
There have been 36 deaths linked to the use of kratom-containing products, the FDA said, adding that the substance is also being laced with other opioids like hydrocodone for marketing purposes.
Leaves of the kratom tree are usually brewed into a tea, chewed, smoked or ingested in capsules and can be used as either a stimulant or sedative.
The regulator said there are currently no approved therapeutic uses of kratom, which is linked to serious side effects such as seizures and liver damage.
Kratom is already a controlled substance in 16 countries worldwide and is also banned in states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
The FDA said it is working to prevent shipments of kratom in the United States and has detained hundreds of these packages at international mail facilities.
The health regulator has also taken action against kratom-containing dietary supplements.
Reporting by Divya Grover in Bengaluru; Editing by Martina D'Couto