MSK experts say we don’t yet have enough information about kratom to know whether it is safe and effective for people with cancer.
In the past few years, a number of companies in the United States have begun selling an herbal product called kratom, mostly online. The product, sold as dried leaves or a powder in capsules, comes from a tropical tree that grows in Southeast Asia.
Proponents of kratom say that it acts as a painkiller and a sedative, among other effects. Some people believe it can treat opioid or alcohol addiction. But none of these benefits have been demonstrated in rigorous clinical trials.
Negative events associated with consuming products that contain kratom have been reported. Many of these cases were caused by long-term abuse. In addition, kratom products have been connected to recent outbreaks of salmonella that sickened about 200 people in several states.
Memorial Sloan Kettering neurologist and pharmacologist Gavril Pasternak is studying the active components of kratom to figure out what the herb does in the body. He’s collaborating on this work with medicinal chemist Susruta Majumdar, who was an assistant attending chemist at MSK and is now an associate professor at the Center for Clinical Pharmacology at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy and the Washington University School of Medicine.
Scientists believe that some of the ingredients naturally found in kratom may hold promise for developing new and better painkillers. These drugs could potentially have fewer side effects than those currently on the market.
How can a natural product become a medicine?
It’s not a crazy notion to think that a new drug could come from a tree. In fact, about half of all drugs sold today originated in living things, including plants, fungi, and bacteria found in the soil. These natural products include the heart drug digoxin, which is isolated from a flower called foxglove; the antibiotic penicillin, which comes from mold; and painkillers like morphine, which is made from poppies. Many cancer drugs are made from natural products too.
Natural products that are developed and sold as drugs may come directly from their source. They may also be created in the lab using chemical synthesis. Chemicals taken from living things may become the starting materials for making similar compounds. Chemists may alter naturally occurring molecules to come up with drugs that are more effective or have fewer side effects.
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Can kratom block pain with less risk?
Like most herbal …….