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A compilation of articles by means of popular specialists of their respective fields on repayment for and collaboration with indigenous humans in regard to their wisdom and provision of infrequent vegetation that are used for essentially the most powerful medicines in Western drugs.

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Ciba Foundation Symposium 185 - Ethnobotany and the Search for New Drugs

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The ‘other’ category may also contain several drugs that affect the immune system. With Professor Bohlin, I have been examining tonics used in Samoa for possible immunostimulatory activity. We found that, in general, immunostimulatory activity is very low. In addition, the ‘other’ category includes things like hunting medicine and love potions. Martin: Paul, I like your metaphor of the search for new drugs from plants as a fishing expedition. As Elaine Elisabetsky and Steve King have pointed out, the pharmaceutical industry will be fishing for things that can treat illnesses of the developed world.

Cox: Podophyllin comes from the genus Podophyllum. It was used by North American Indians to treat skin tumours and is now used to treat testicular neoplasms. But this is unusual; there are very few indigenous cultures that recognize cancer and leukaemia. This is why I believe that indicators of ethnobotanical success for cancer drugs are not indicative of the success of this approach for drugs as a whole. Elisabetsky: There is a problem concerning the concepts of diseases and how to translate indigenous disease concepts into Western disease concepts and vice versa.

Saliency. Inflammation, dermatological and GI ailments are all rather easily detected by indigenous peoples. Most cancers and cardiovascular disease are difficult to diagnose by indigenous peoples. In fact, few indigenous languages have words for cancer, leukaemia, lymphoma, hypertension, etc. Toxicity. Indigenous peoples are likely to avoid plant medicines that are highly toxic in low doses. Most cardiovascular and anticancer drugs and those active on the central nervous system have extremely ‘narrow’ dosage windows and thus would likely be unacceptable to indigenous peoples (Withering’s dosage problems with Digitalis might be the exception that proves the rule).

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