Many powerful pharmaceutical drugs have been banned because of side effects that are often more serious than the treated condition. The recent announcement of a new range of cannabis-derived drugs recalls the work on medicinal plants at the Centre for Holistic Studies in Mumbai and later Nashik.
Porton Down-based GW Pharmaceuticals, which is described as being the global leader in prescription cannabinoid medicines, has been given permission to grow 20 tonnes of cannabis a year in Britain. This biotech group has created Sativex, a cannabinoid medicine which treats spasticity due to multiple sclerosis, now available on prescription in New Zealand, Canada, Spain, Britain and Sweden.
Justin Gover, GWP’s managing director, believes that cannabinoids, the active molecules found in cannabis, can be used to treat conditions including diabetes, high cholesterol, liver problems and even cancer.
Professor H.P. Hartung, Chair of Neurology at Heinrich-Heine University, Dusseldorf, Germany and Chairman of the satellite symposium has commented that the ‘tolerability profile’ of Sativex® is favourable, with limited relevant adverse effects.
Kurumba ‘medicine woman’ processing medicinal herbs
CHS notes that ‘side-effects’ were not a feature of adivasi medicine and has recorded information about 85 plants used in tribal medicine which successfully treat a wide range of ailments. There is a vital difference in the technology: in allopathic medicine an effective substance from the plant is isolated and only this ‘active’ ingredient used, but tribal doctors [bhagats] use the whole plant, which contains many chemicals – and sometimes several plants working together.
These remedies are under threat, not only from the ‘development’ of forest and tribal land, but also the international corporate attempts to control herbal knowledge. These have led to high-profile cases such as the unsuccessful attempts to patent turmeric and neem, the latter following a ten year battle against these wealthy and powerful companies.#
Though food/seed patents are the subject of the book, The Future Control of Food – A Guide to International Negotiations and Rules on Intellectual Property, Biodiversity and Food Security, co-edited by colleague Geoff Tansey, much of the information is relevant to medicinal plants.
During 1896 the pharmaceutical society of Great Britain codified the indigenous drugs in India’s tribal areas where multiple medicinal plants were used by tribal people. The Government of India established an Indigenous Drugs Committee in 1896, to encourage systematic cultivation and use of indigenous medical plants.
The World Health Organisation now promotes traditional healers, agreeing that tribal medicine is highly effective for many conditions. WHO recognises that traditional medicine – used by 65% in India’s rural areas to meet their primary health care needs – makes an important contribution to achieving WHO’s health goals.