Controversial herbal supplement is at the center of the debate related to the opioid epidemic.

Kratom — an herbal supplement sold online and in convenience stores, gas stations and smoke shops — lies at the center of a debate fueled by the opioid epidemic. Made from the leaf of a Southeast Asian plant, kratom (pronounced KRAY-tuhm) is touted as an energizer, potent pain reliever and tool to wean people with addictions off heroin and other opioids.

It's also increasingly used recreationally, with users describing it as stimulating like coffee at low doses, and producing a sense of relaxation and mild euphoria at higher doses.

Last week, two state lawmakers from the Rochester/Finger Lakes region introduced bills (S6924/A8787) that would prohibit anyone under 18 from purchasing, possessing or using any products containing kratom. The bill would amend the public health law to define and regulate kratom as well as direct the state Department of Health to conduct a study on the benefits and risks of kratom.

State Sen. Pam Helming, R-Canandaigua, said she announced her sponsorship of the bill during a recent roundtable discussion on the heroin and opioid crisis.

“It is important that we regulate and control its sale to minors. This legislation shows that we take seriously the addiction crisis that is plaguing our families and communities instead of just paying lip service to it,” Helming stated in a release.

Echoing the same, Joe Morelle, D-Irondequoit, stated: “Substance abuse is a scourge plaguing communities across our state, spanning all socioeconomic backgrounds, and devastating countless families and individuals both young and old. Regulating the sale and usage of kratom is a critical step toward protecting our young people from the perils of addiction.”

Kratom is believed to have some medical benefits. It’s also believed to have a high potential for abuse and addiction. In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) moved to ban its sale and classify it as a Schedule I drug due to it being an imminent hazard to public safety. The decision was delayed to allow for further research.

Helming mentioned learning about potential dangers of kratom while attending a substance abuse awareness and prevention event in September hosted by the Seneca Falls Central School District. “Despite the medical potential, there are serious concerns and unknowns with kratom,” stated Helming. “Until it is further researched, the sale of kratom to our children must be regulated.”

At Smokers Choice on Eastern Boulevard in Canandaigua on Tuesday, manager Connor Lucas said he agrees with the proposed restriction for minors. Smokers Choice sells an array of kratom products that come in liquids, capsules and other forms. Just like the prohibited sale of tobacco products to minors, Lucas said he thinks kratom should be similarly regulated.

Smokers Choice does not sell kratom or any of its products to minors, Lucas said. As a smoke shop, people under 18 are not allowed in the door and IDs are checked, he said.

Lucas and Smokers Choice district manager Ken Bater talked about the popularity of kratom and why people buy it. Many customers swear by it to ease stress and manage pain, they said. Lucas himself recently took kratom to help with pain following an injury. Bater said kratom helps relieve stress. They also talked about kratom helping people overcome addiction to opioids. That is how kratom helped Josh Moore, who used to work at Smokers Choice and who last year shared his story about how kratom has helped him and others.

This September, controversy over kratom escalated when a young police sergeant in the Adirondack Mountain community of Tupper Lake died of an overdose of kratom. It raised fears among kratom advocates that it could be cited in an ongoing federal review to get it fully banned nationwide.

Six states already ban kratom, and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency proposed a ban last year, citing 15 previous deaths from 2014 to 2016. But that proposal was withdrawn after public opposition, including a letter signed by 62 members of Congress and a protest at the White House organized by the American Kratom Association.

The DEA will decide whether to proceed with a ban after the Food and Drug Administration completes an analysis of the supplement. The FDA said there is no specific timetable. Previously, the FDA has warned consumers that kratom can cause adverse health effects, including severe withdrawal symptoms.

"This is very personal to a lot of folks," said Pete Candland, executive director of the American Kratom Association, founded in 2014 to advocate for full consumer access to the herb. "There are so many people who feel kratom has literally saved their lives, whether it's getting them off an opioid addiction, relieving pain or helping with overall health and well-being."

Why the 27-year-old police sergeant Matt Dana was using kratom is not clear. His obituary noted that in addition to enjoying hunting and fishing, Dana had been a bodybuilder. YouTube videos by bodybuilders advocate using kratom to increase energy and "push through the pain."

Advocates of kratom dispute the coroner's finding that it caused Dana's death from hemorrhagic pulmonary edema, when there is blood and other fluid in the lungs. The kratom association contends other factors were at work in the 15 previous deaths cited by the DEA, and it has requested the coroner's report in Dana's case to have it reviewed by toxicologists.

Franklin County Coroner Shawn Stuart said that the only substance in Dana's system was a high level of kratom and that his only physical ailment was the edema. Stuart said Dana had been making the powdered Red Vein Maeng Da strain of kratom into a paste and eating it.

Because kratom is classified as a dietary supplement, not a drug, it has not been subjected to clinical trials documenting health effects. But the FDA urges health care professionals and consumers to report any adverse effects to its online MedWatch program. A 2014 alert from the FDA warned the supplement could lead to respiratory depression, vomiting, nervousness, weight loss and constipation. And it noted withdrawal symptoms may include hostility and aggression.

Pulmonary edema wasn't listed as an adverse effect.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.