By Alexandra Sifferlin
October 15, 2015

“Herbal Viagra” has made headlines after former NBA star Lamar Odom reportedly took such supplements before he was found unconscious in a Nevada brothel. Consumers may be curious about what ‘herbal Viagra’ actually is. The short answer? It’s complicated.

What is ‘herbal Viagra’?

That’s not a simple question to answer, because “Herbal Viagra” isn’t a product category. While Viagra is an FDA-approved drug to treat erectile dysfunction, there are also over-the-counter supplements for sexual enhancement that claim to be “all-natural” or “herbal,” but are not approved by the FDA, and do not undergo safety testing. As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said in the past, these supplements can have undisclosed ingredients. So it can be difficult to know what exactly is in them.

Are these products safe?

It depends, but the FDA released a consumer alert in early October expressing concerns about many of the products. Lab tests by the FDA had recently shown that nearly 300 of these sexual enhancement products actually contain undisclosed drug ingredients. “These can include the same active ingredients found in prescription drugs that are FDA-approved for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED), such as Viagra, Cialis and Levitra,” the FDA said. Dosing and ingredient mixtures could interact poorly if a person is taking other medication.

What should consumers look out for?

The FDA says consumers should be wary of alternative erectile dysfunction products that claim to provide results in 30 to 40 minutes, are advertised as FDA approved drugs, are sold in single servings, are advertised in spam emails, have labels mainly written in a foreign language, or have warnings or directions that imitate those featured on FDA approved products.

“We’re finding an alarming number of these products sold online and in retail stores,” Gary Coody, the FDA’s national health fraud coordinator, said in a statement accompanying the FDA consumer update. “They’re often sold in single-serving sizes in gas stations or vending machines. We’ve seen pills, coffees, chewing gum and dissolvable oral strips that contain hidden drug ingredients or untested chemicals.”

Read more: FDA Warned About ‘Herbal Viagra’ Before Lamar Odom Incident

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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