American Botanical Council warns about high toxicity of oleander extract

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The oleander (Nerium oleander) plant is highly toxic and consumers should not produce oleander-based home-remedies or self-medicate with the plant, according to an announcement made earlier this week by the American Botanical Council.

The warning came as a response to recent media reports that President Donald Trump may be considering asking, or may have asked, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve the drug product called oleandrin as a potential treatment for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Oleandrin, as a purified pharmaceutical investigative drug product, has been researched for its potential applications in cancer treatment and as an antiviral agent, the organization said. Some of the studies in these areas have shown successful results in laboratory research, but it has not been tested in humans with COVID-19.

Oleander is a large white- or pink-flowering bush or small tree that is grown as an ornamental plant in many parts of the United States and elsewhere, including north Africa, the Mediterranean, and southwestern Asia. All parts of the plant contain a poisonous substance called oleandrin, known technically as a cardiac glycoside, and other similarly toxic constituents.

Representatives from the ABC said the organization does not know of any extracts or dietary supplement products sold in the U.S. that contain oleander. Oleander plant parts and its extracts are not sufficiently safe to be sold in dietary supplements. They said consumers should not to ingest any parts of the plant, or capsules, tablets, teas, or extract preparations made from leaves or other parts of the oleander plant because it contains chemicals that can cause serious effects to the human heart, including death.

“To be clear, ABC applauds appropriate scientific research into medicinal plants and fungi as sources of new medicines,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the organization, in a statement. “However, ABC emphasizes the distinction between a scientifically studied, chemically defined experimental new drug compound from a widely known poisonous plant and a simple home-made pill, tea, or extract made from the plant’s various parts. With respect to oleander, all parts of the plant are highly toxic, dangerous, and life-threatening when ingested. Consumers should not, ever, try to make a home-made remedy from or self-treat with oleander.”

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