Nerium oleander
This information describes the common uses of Oleandrin, how it works, and its possible side effects.

Common Name

Rose laurel, Adelfa, Rosenlorbeer, Karavira

How It Works

Oleandrin may inhibit the growth of some cancer cells in the lab, but it has not yet been shown to be an effective cancer treatment.

Oleandrin is an extract from the plant, Nerium oleander. This shrub is native to northern Africa, the eastern Mediterranean basin, and Southeast Asia and although it looks appealing, is considered toxic. It contains substances that are similar to the active chemical found in the heart medication, digoxin. In the laboratory, Anvirzel, a brand of oleandrin, is able to suppress growth and cause cell death in certain cancer cell lines. It has also increased sensitivity of prostate cancer cell lines to radiation therapy. However, it is unclear whether these effects can occur in the human body.

Purported Uses

  • To treat cancer
    Laboratory studies show some anticancer activity in cancer cell lines, but clinical trials have not evaluated the anticancer activities of oleandrin in humans.

    There is no scientific evidence to support the following claims:
  • To treat congestive heart failure
  • To treat hepatitis C
  • To treat AIDS

Patient Warnings

  • The raw plant from which Anvirzelis extracted, Nerium oleander, is highly toxic. Consumption of only one Nerium oleander leaf may be fatal.
  • Onset of toxicity occurs several hours after consumption and includes vomiting, abdominal pain, bluish skin discoloration, low blood pressure, low body temperature, dizziness, respiratory paralysis, and death.

Do Not Take If

Anvirzel is not an approved treatment in the United States and should not be used outside of clinical trials.

  • You are taking digoxin: Anvirzel contains cardiac glycosides, the same active chemical in digoxin, so the two medications may have additive effects, causing toxicity.
  • You are taking P-glycoprotein (P-gp) substrates drugs: Oleander leaf extract may increase the blood levels of these drugs.
  • You have high blood levels of calcium
  • You have low blood levels of potassium
  • You have abnormally slow heart rate
  • You have abnormally fast ventricular heart rate
  • You have heart failure
    Anvirzel contains the cardiac glycosides, the same active chemical in digoxin, and is therefore contraindicated in people with these conditions.

Side Effects

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Itching
  • Pain at injection site
  • Tumor pain
  • Breast pain
  • Abnormally high white blood cell counts
  • Abnormally fast and irregular heart rate

Case Reports

  • Death of an adult diabetic man: Due to consumption of oleander leaves.
  • Death suspected from daily intramuscular injections: In a 43-year-old cancer patient, who used intramuscular injections of Nerium oleander extract for 2 months.
  • Accidental poisoning: In a woman who attempted to self-medicate for thyroid disease.

Special Point

Anvirzel is considered an “investigational new drug” in the United States and is not available for use except under approved clinical trials. Until more test results showing this product is effective and safe are published, it should not be used outside of clinical trials.