In my practice, I have met a lot of people who would rather take herbal drugs than orthodox medicine because they believe they are more effective, natural, may be cheaper or with less adverse effects.
These reasons may be true to an extent but not entirely true.
Are herbal drugs/concoctions really safe?
Some herbal drugs are safe while others are not. Some of my colleagues have done an analysis on some herbal drugs and found that some of these herbals are not safe. I have also admitted a few patients who came down with adverse reactions as a result of taking herbal drugs. This is similar to reports worldwide.
Do orthodox drugs cause adverse effects? Yes, but because extensive research has been carried out on the drugs, we are aware of adverse effects that are likely to occur. For most herbal drugs these tests have not been fully explored. Am I saying herbal drugs are bad? No, not all. In fact, some anti-malaria drugs are herbal based compounds. The only difference between these herbs and other drugs is that their safety profile has been fully explored. So what I am saying is we need to develop our herbal drugs and recognize possible adverse effects they may cause.
What disease conditions do herbal drugs treat?
Most herbal drugs are marketed as drugs that could be used to treat several unrelated medical conditions. There is no doubt that herbal drugs are effective in treating some conditions. In fact, I have seen people who got better after taking these herbs. But it is worrisome when single drug treats a million unrelated conditions. I once saw a young man who had been seizure free for a long period who was brought to me because his seizures suddenly became more frequent. He improved a little after the dose of his drugs were adjusted but never back to seizure freedom. Then one day, the father told me he knew what the problem was, he stopped the herbal drug which was marketed as a cure for “all diseases including seizures” and the boy became seizure free.
Again we need to develop our herbals and be sure of what they really treat. While these drugs may be effective in handling some conditions, they may aggravate others. This leaves a question on which herbal drug works for what?
Herbal drugs have a role in the treatment of diseases, but we need to explore the potentials of these herbs fully so that we can get the best out of these drugs. In the past, drugs were developed without fully evaluating their safety potentials. But bad experiences in the past has led to rules about drug discovery and development in Western countries. An example was the drug thalidomide which was given to prevent nausea in pregnancy, it was later discovered that women who took these drugs had babies without limbs.
Some other African countries are also actively researching into herbals, Nigeria can take a cue from that and develop our herbal drug industry.
In conclusion, herbal drugs need to be fully investigated in terms of adverse effects, proper dosing and usage, effects of long term use, drug interactions and contraindications. I would not recommend the use of herbals since there are a lot of unanswered questions about the use of these drugs.