Jamaican doctor defends herbal medicine use

A 2019 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) on traditional and complementary medicine reveals that 88 per cent of member states acknowledge use of traditional herbal medicine among their population.

In the Caribbean and Latin American region alone, that figure reaches above 85 per cent, according to Jamaican clinical researcher with the Scientific Research Council, Dr Lorenzo Gordon.

“This is supported by the Deans for the Latin America and the Caribbean Medical Schools of which I am a member. I attended a conference in May last year where we had a discussion about the fact that up to 86 per cent of us in this region still use traditional herbal medicine for treatment of common ailments. And we estimate that 80 per cent of the rest world of the world still use some form of traditional herbal treatment,” Dr Gordon told the Jamaica Observer in an extended interview last week.

With the urgency now to find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), controversy was sparked recently around the use of herbal remedies to cure the disease when Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina announced in April that his country had found a cure.

COVID Organics, or CVO for short, comes in the form of a herbal tea not unlike many Jamaican herbal remedies, and is made primarily from a commonly used plant in that country — the Artemisia plant.

The WHO later warned that the drink remains untested and that “Many plants and substances are being proposed without the minimum requirements and evidence of quality, safety and efficacy,” as stated in a news release on May 4.

But already the drink is being used in other parts of Africa as a cure for COVID-19, with President Rajoelina claiming in an interview with France 24 on May 12 that more than 80 COVID-19 patients had been cured after ingesting the medicine.

In Jamaica, other plant-based approaches have been employed to ward off the virus.

“Generally in our region, persons who are in any kind of diseased state, whether it is this present virus, or any other ailment, will use the traditional medicine.

“Even in our own stance in Jamaica where people have claimed that the use of lime or the use of onions show some effect on the virus. In the case of Madagascar, they are using their traditional plants.

“We must continue with using herbal medicine because there are truths to it and but there are rules to it too,” Dr Gordon, also a medical practitioner, told the Sunday Observer.

The clinical researcher argued that a scientific approach should be taken with utilising the plethora of herbal plants found on the island, to extract and study their medicinal value.

“What we need to do now is come together as scientists, looking at these extracts and finding the active ingredients to see if we can isolate it and enhance it, so that we can determine how much to prescribe. I am not against traditional medicine but it has to be consistent,” he said.

Dr Gordon said that this approach is important, since one plant can have varying effects on different people.

“If, for example, you have a plant [ that] have too much THC, [it] could cause seizures. The same cannabis, depending on the strain of, it will cause one effect in one person versus another.”

“We have to apply the science and technology to look at the active ingredient and identify the exact strain of that plant that gives it and secure that plant and make sure it doesn’t mutate so that every time someone takes it, they get the same results and we can monitor for any side effects of the plant,” said Dr Gordon.

As it relates to Government support in this endeavour, Dr Gordon said there is room for improvement, arguing that Jamaica needs legislative framework to formalise a fledgling nutraceutical industry and to protect local herb practitioners.

“Presently we don’t have a very clear pathway for the nutraceutical industry in Jamaica. We have to put regulations in place to protect our own people who may have their herbal extracts and might want to start a commercial enterprise. We must have some regulatory guidelines for that to happen.

“Traditional herbal practitioners in communities across Jamaica may not have a large amount of money to invest in herbal medicine and bring it in the mainstream, and then the big concern is that BigPharma (pharmaceutical corporations) comes in, takes it and make millions from it,” said Dr Gordon.

Jamaica’s nutraceutical regulation committee headed by notable Jamaican scientist, Dr Errol Morrison, is currently looking to establish nutraceutical remedies as an alternative form of medicine.

“That Bill is being presented to Parliament right now to say that we can have that kind of regulatory system in place in which it will become easier for us to determine whether a plant extract can be used for a particular condition,” Dr Gordon said.

Dr Gordon is also part of a research partnership between Jamaica and the Harvard International Phytomedicine and Medical Cannabis Institute in the study of Jamaica’s traditional medicinal herbs

“We are part of an international network of scientists who still believe that plant medicine is very important, has been important in the past, continues to be important today, and will become even more important in the future because people have a right to use herb as their medicine,” he said.

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