The Snake Oil Conundrum
The Snake Oil Conundrum - A Brief History of Natural Remedies
In this article we take a look at a brief history of how certain natural remedies were originally widely prescribed without control or regulation such as the fabled Snake Oil and later on the more dangerous Radium. Both which have since been proved that if used correctly can have positive qualities.
Radium* is a radioactive element that was discovered by Marie Curie and her husband in 1898. Soon after, the strange properties of this material were exploited by charlatans and quacks to sell a bewildering array of products and generally marketed as a panacea, a cure all to relieve symptoms and rid you of your ailment. The pseudo-science used was based on the energy that seemed to be contained within this material, and that this energy could somehow be transferred to the body and used to fight disease. The effects of radioactivity on cells is now well known, and the catastrophic effects that these products had on people’s health is a predictable consequence when viewed from modern times.
Long before this event, and for many years, the infamous snake oil** was sold by unscrupulous or deluded salesmen. Again, these liniments and potions were touted as a cure for rheumatoid arthritis, aches and pains, insomnia, melancholy (depression), insect bites, sciatica and the list goes on. It is impossible to know what effect these were having on the body, because the ingredients may have differed radically from bottle to bottle and from those contained in the original Chinese formulation, which was in itself far from standardised. Many of these false medicines likely caused little harm, other than to the wallet of the patient. It wasn’t until the events that unfolded after radium was unleashed onto an unwitting public that governments stepped in to end the unfettered madness. And so, the US Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906 was born, which in turn led to the creation of US Food and Drug Administration, or FDA.
The following decades saw the rise of big pharma, and a paradigm shift in the way diseases were treated, in the way medicines were formulated and this was all driven by a greater understanding of biology and biochemistry, and aided by increasingly sophisticated analytical techniques. Many benefits have undoubtedly come from modern pharmaceutical science. Without the return on investment for research and development, medical scientific progress would unlikely have been driven with such vigour. There has however been a major drawback from this approach to healthcare, and that is the intentional avoidance of abundant natural products in clinical research. Conspiracy theories aside, research into synthetic opioids has been a major focus of the pharmaceutical industry over the years. At least 20 non-natural opioid drugs have been available over the decades with many other trials undertaken. In 2015, 91 Americans per day died of opioid overdose (including the use of illegal heroin). To put this into context, the only recorded death unequivocally attributed as a cannabis overdose is that of the Brazilian trafficker who was crushed to death by his 500kg cargo in 2013, but admittedly, this is stretching the definition of overdose.
The endo opioid system was discovered in 1974. The endocannabinoid system was discovered between 1988 and 1993, and since that time three cannabinoid drugs have been approved for use by the FDA. Two of them are synthetic Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the third is a chemical analogue of THC, that is, a synthetic chemical that is very similar to that of THC in structure. A handful of other synthetic cannabinoids have been funded through expensive clinical trials in humans. The combined medical indications that the trials were designed to assess efficacy in were; neuropathic pain, treatment of nausea and lack of appetite, neuroprotection, arthritis, bladder control, chronic pain, hypertension, inflammation, tumour surveillance and appetite reduction. Contrast this with the medical indications of opioid trials; pain. The mis-match is staggering. There have been over 100 cannabinoids identified in the cannabis plant. This is a treasure trove of potential medicines that have been denied to humanity for long enough, another paradigm shift is happening and in the UK at least, the silence is deafening.
* In May 2013, the FDA approved the use of Radium-223 to treat prostate cancer. ** Subsequent chemical analysis of oil made from the Chinese water snake fat has found that it contains up to 20% eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which the US National Institute of Health recognises as having anti-inflammatory properties.
Author | Nick Clarkson
Chief Scientific Officer
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