Healing with Herbs, Part 8: Herbal Medicines and the Law

Herbal medicines and the law

Healing with herbs,  Part 8

New botanical medicines are harder to come by in the united States  than in the Europe, India or china.  That is because drug testing and patent laws here tend to discourage the development of new botanical medicines.  Exhaustive studies proving a drug’s safety and effectiveness are required before it can be sold.  The costs and paperwork for such investigations are staggering.

The laws and regulations as applied to natual herbs is changing.

Plant derived drugs have additional burdens.  Plant gathering expeditions are pricey but manageable as long as the company can patent any new drug yielded by such expeditions.  But patenting is tricky since a whole plant cannot be patented.  Even obtaining protection for an isolated active ingredient is difficult.  Placed on the market without patent protection, a new medicine can be duplicated by any other company.  As a result, the chance of the discoverer recouping research costs is slim indeed.  although the government sponsors some research in botanical drugs, patenting disputes keep most of these discoveries from ever reaching the market.

Although European countries are more hospitable to herbal medicines, they are also requiring any botanicals on the market to be proven not only to be safe for human use,  but also effective for the ailment associated with any claim.

Canada is leading the way for more balanced and appropriate screening.  The Canadian Ministry of National Health has introduced a new class of drug, designated Folklore Medicine (FM).  FM drugs would be labeled as such, complete with the botanical name and formal certification, plant part used, and type of preparation.  Standards would be enforce , so that the active constituents in the drugs would remain stable.  A voluntary code of ethics has been proposed and advertising would enlist the help of retailers in avoiding the sort of advertising that preys on people desperate for help.  Such regulations offers a middle ground on which herbal medicines can stand.  They would practically guarantee that the herbs on the shelf had been screened for safety, even if their efficacy remained unproven.


See the complete Healing with Herbs series by Dr. Cathleen Carr at her Holistic Health column at nationally syndicated Examiner.com


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