Herbal Substance Use & Abuse

Herbal Substance Use & Abuse
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  • 0:00 Newton and Herbs
  • 0:25 The Use of Herbs
  • 2:07 The Abuse of Herbs
  • 3:33 The Myth of No Side Effects
  • 4:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Herbal substances are used all over the world. Some are known to have proven or potentially beneficial effects. This lesson will discuss some commonly used and abused herbal substances and tell you why they are not free of side effects.

Newton and Herbs

What does Sir Isaac Newton, one of the most brilliant physicists and mathematicians of all time, have to do with herbs? Probably nothing that he would've been aware of, and maybe not much that you're aware of right now, either. Suffice it to say, however, his connection to the use and abuse of herbal substances will be made clear by the end of this lesson.

The Use of Herbs

What is an herb? An herb, in the context of our discussion, is part of or all of a plant that is used for its potential therapeutic value.

Herbal substances have been used in herbal medicine for millennia. Herbal medicine is, simply and not surprisingly, the use of plant roots, leaves, seeds, flowers and other parts for medicinal purposes.

Herbal substances and supplements are used to try to treat or prevent a wide swath of issues. More often than not, though, the research on the claims touting an herb's benefits is either completely non-existent, poorly conducted, or negated by better studies.

However, this doesn't mean people, including medical practitioners, avoid using herbs for their potential therapeutic value. Let's go over just a few examples of the herbal substances in use today and what they may help treat.

  • Saw palmetto may help treat benign prostatic hyperplasia
  • Ginkgo is used to try to improve memory and treat dementia
  • St. John's wort may help treat mild to moderate depression
  • Valerian root may help with insomnia
  • Echinacea might reduce symptoms of the common cold
  • Kava kava has properties that help relieve anxiety

This is just a partial list. But, although the list is small, you can clearly appreciate the many uses of herbal substances. Some help treat physical illnesses, and others help treat mental issues. There's absolutely no doubt about the fact that Mother Nature has provided us with many substances that can help us in many ways, with many more likely to be discovered.

The Abuse of Herbs

That being said, there is another side to herbal substances. I'm almost positive you have heard the claim that these guys are supposedly much safer, or even free of side effects, compared to prescription medication.

Maybe this is why some people throw caution to the wind and overuse and abuse herbal substances in the hopes of having more powerful or longer-lasting beneficial effects. And, while popping herbal substances left and right is the obvious form of herbal substance abuse, there are other things people do that put them at risk of abusing their bodies--things that aren't as obvious.

For example, people on prescription medication for one disorder may use an herbal substance for either that disorder or another without first consulting with their doctor. Many herbs have known negative interactions with prescription medication and, therefore, put the patient at risk for the development of further health problems.

Additionally, some people are so entranced by the idea of therapeutic, but supposedly side-effect free herbs, that they completely forego proven medical treatments for their condition and use unproven herbal substances instead. Obviously, this puts them at great risk of harm, not necessarily from the herbs, but from the avoidance of proper treatment.

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