ABC, AHPA warn consumers against oleander supplements

August 21, 2020
Alissa Marrapodi

Both the American Botanical Council and the American Herbal Products Association strongly discourage sales or marketing of dietary supplements that contain any part of the oleander plant.

Oleandrin, a cardiac glycoside found in the oleander plant – a highly toxic plant – has been drawing attention the last few days due its potential use for treatment of COVID-19. Both the American Botanical Council (ABC; Austin, TX) and the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA; Silver Spring, MD) are strongly discouraging the sale or marketing of dietary supplements that contain any part of the oleander plant (Nerium oleander) or its constituent, oleandrin, and warned the public about the substantial toxicity associated with all parts of the plant. 

ABC warns consumers 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.

AHPA also urges physical and online retailers to refrain from offering any such products for sale, and AHPA cautions consumers to avoid oral consumption of oleander or oleandrin. 

The warning came as a result of recent media reports that President Trump may be considering asking (or may have asked) the FDA to approve the drug product called oleandrin as a potential treatment for 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 by pharmaceutical drug-development company Phoenix Biotechnologies. 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.

Media coverage on oleandrin has been seen on CNN, and in articles on the Newsweek and Men’s Health websites, among other sources. In the CNN coverage, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta emphasized the extreme toxicity of the oleander plant itself and cautioned consumers against using it.

“To be clear, ABC applauds appropriate scientific research into medicinal plants and fungi as sources of new medicines,” ABC founder and executive director Mark Blumenthal said in a press release. “We also acknowledge the very promising medical research conducted by Phoenix Biotechnologies and their oleandrin formulations. 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.”