On Herbal Medicine

A friend of mine that is into herbal medicine and against vaccines:

I’m all for research with plant medicine. Problem is that there is no money to be made so we won’t see it. Unless of course there are studies where plant medicine is used as a placebo in control groups and is found to be 70% effective over pharma products like the one I am referencing here.


Alternative Therapies and Medicine makes over $34 billion in revenue per year. There is plenty of money there for research. Plus if they find something they will sell it faster making more money. The money is there, the alternative medical industry just isn’t using it.


As well the NIH has set up a department to investigate alternative therapies to determine the efficacy of the techniques. I absolutely agree that herbs should be tested and investigated. What I don’t agree with is the automatic assumption that an herb is better than a medicine when the herbs haven’t been through the same rigorous testing that medicine gets. The projects need to be done and then the results need to be replicated, without the replication of results the data is questionable at best.


What I don’t understand (and why herbal medicine is pseudo-science) is that you don’t demand the same level of testing for herbs as you do for drugs. You are against putting drugs into a child, but you will happily fill them full of bio-chemicals that haven’t been tested, because of anecdotal evidence that it helped a friend of a friend.

But in either case you are putting psycho-active substances into a child, for me I demand the highest level of testing and evidence before I would subject a developing mind to something that would alter it. Same with myself, I require double blind testing to ensure that the psycho-active chemicals I put into my body are safe. You just take it on faith that the herbs that you use are safe and effective.

Given that it would be hellishly cheap to verify the efficacy of herbal medication, I simply do not understand why you don’t demand that the producers of your herbs provide the same sort of evidence that you aren’t wasting your money and that it isn’t dangerous, the same that you demand of the pharmaceutical companies.

An herb grower isn’t producing a new medicine, they just have to grow a plant and harvest it. That means that the source of the test is readily available, and sugar pills to test against are basically free. The cost of a couple of doctors, nurses, and statisticians for a couple of months is negligible against the income of the alternative medicine industry’s profits. So for a couple of hundred thousand dollars, the producers could verify their claims against the scientific paradigm. They can easily afford to perform multiple trials to ensure that the results are repeatable.

Compare this to the millions of dollars the pharmaceutical companies pay to produce a new drug. There is no good reason that you aren’t demanding that the herbs that you are suggesting be used instead of medicine aren’t as thoroughly tested as the medicine that you are saying is unsafe.

It is this lack of scepticism that shows that herbal medicine isn’t a rigorous source of information. Scientists are sceptical of everything, you should be too.

Pseudo-science bothers me, I agree that plants are the cornerstone of medicine, but why aren’t you subjecting all people that claim to have a cure to the same level of rigour? If Pfizer claims to have a cure they are money grubbing liars, if Betty at Holistic Medicine claims to have a cure she is obviously not lying.



/edit in a response from another friend of mine

THANK YOU for writing this. Year after year when I was running a clinic in San Francisco, we’d have patients wander in complaining of new ailments, surprised when lab work and a physical exam revealed that the “harmless” plant based tincture they were using to treat _________ (FILL IN BLANKS) had accidentally destroyed their liver. YES, plants can hurt you. YES, there is enough money to test them and ensure patient safety.

Plants can be dangerous and potent (think Belladonna and Digitalis here) and accidental poisoning is much more common than people realize. In another example, two children in my community died the day after they chewed on the bark of an indigenous tree. Apparently, no one knew that bark could be poisonous.

It IS possible to find funding to test plant based compounds and even, make safer variants of these compounds following a clinical testing model which focuses on patient care. Sadly, the conspiracy here is not institutionalized entities like the FDA but the proliferation of people who are selling plant remedies without an understanding of toxicology.

My rant here is done : )


Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: