Are Herbal Remedies the New Big Pharma?


Big pharma is heralded for inventing new cures, but the courts are clogged with dangerous drug cases. Most of the world has used plant-based remedies for hundreds if not thousands of years. Here, there's plenty of skepticism, but Chris Kilham, professor of ethnobotany and explorer in residence at the University of Massachusetts, says herbal medicines are much safer than synthetic drugs.

Why are herbal medicines safer than pharmaceuticals?
Synthetic pharmaceuticals have only been used recently. Our culture is pharma dominant. But 300,000 people die every year from the proper use of medicines. No one dies from herbs. They are much safer. And much cheaper. I feel badly for the people who suffer from the side effects and consequences of hazardous pharmaceutical. It's antithetical to the hippocratic oath. I want to see people use safe, practical medicines. And the science on this is vast, deep. There's no question these things work.

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So why doesn't everyone use herbs?
Globally most people do. There are 5 billion people out there using medicines from plants.

Why don't we use more herbs here in the U.S.?
Many pharmaceutical drugs were originally made from plants. But here in the U.S. herbs must be sold as supplements. And that's fine. It keeps the cost down.

Aren't herbal medicines unregulated?
Herbal medicines are regulated by the FDA. They are safe. We see plenty of cases of a pharmaceutical drug that later turns out to be unsafe. That doesn't happen with herbs.

Why don't the pharmaceutical companies develop more plant based drugs?
Pharma is totally bewildered by this because they are not single molecule drugs. Pharma companies have hired me on occasion but they are not keen on plant based medicines. But people are not waiting for the big pharma to figure it out. They are going out and buying herbal medicines. And many herbal medicine companies are run by scientists who used to work for pharma.

So what exactly do you do?
I travel the world looking for traditional, plant based medicines. I don't discover them. I find traditional remedies and work with indigenous people and establish trade with the countries that have these plants.

And what are you working on now ? A cure for cancer perhaps?
There are probably hundreds of cancer inhibiting herbs, but I'm not sure a cure will be discovered anytime soon.

There's a lot of interest in anti-inflammatories, especially after Vioxx. I think we'll see a huge increase in the use of anti-inflammatory herbs, so I'm working on that.

There's also a lot of interest in sleep aids. We already have a product - Calming Sleep - available through any Wal-Mart. So many people suffer with this problem. A month's supply is $10, it's not addictive, has no side effects, all the ingredients are FDA approved.

We also have Maca, a stimulant. People are self medicating with coffee. This does the same things without the jittery effects of caffeine.