Traditional Healing Powers Go Online

from the getting-information-out-there dept

It isn’t just the technology world where questionable patents are showing up every day. Some scientists are upset that big drug companies are patenting remedies that are based on traditional healing solutions from around the world. So, they’ve started to put together a large database of traditional healing information, that patent researchers can use in checking for “prior art”. Of course, there are plenty of other potential uses for the database as well – including having the big drug companies scour it for ideas (though, they’re then likely to be less patentable). However, any solution that gets more info out about the healing powers of various items is probably a good thing.

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Comments on “Traditional Healing Powers Go Online”

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dorpus says:

Double Edged Sword

This would be a treasure trove for hucksters who can feed the database misinformation in order to promote dubious herbal cures. There are people who die from consuming quack herbal products. There is the tale of a mother from Long Island who asked the friendly neighborhood health food store clerk about a “natural” cough syrup for her 2-month old baby. The store clerk told her she should take eucalyptus oil. The baby had a severe allergic reaction to the oil, her brain arteries ruptured, and she will be a slobbering retard for the rest of her life.

It has been standard practice for centuries for pharmaceutical companies to find the active ingredients in folk remedies, removing the harmful inactive ingredients. Often, pharmaceuticals have found ways to improve the naturally made active ingredient so they cause fewer toxic side effects.

There is a good deal of hokum out there about “natural” and “artificial” products. The nutra-sweet that people call “artificial” in fact originates from a South American jungle plant. Plants in their wild form contain lots of toxic chemicals. The crops we eat are artificial breeds of plants that contain fewer of the deadly toxins. Wild tomatoes and oranges would kill most humans; even the cultivated varieties still contain poisons in non-fruit parts of the plant.

dorpus says:

I should also say

Folk medicine has been researched for centuries, so new discoveries today are rare. We’re in a world today where an aboriginal person is more likely to wear a New York Mets baseball cap than feathers on his head. Anthropologists often know the language and folklore of aboriginal peoples better than modern aboriginals. Among modern Amazon Indians, shaman medicine increasingly consists of cheap whiskey, cigarettes, fluorescent pens, and cocaine.

Also, just because people practiced some form of medicine for thousands of years does not make them right. Tibetans believe that diseases are caused by worms living in the spine, so the application of red-hot irons will kill the worms.

Pharmaceuticals have long since moved on. In the 1980s and 90s, scientists used to sample fauna in Costa Rican rain forests to look for new compounds. Since then, the trend has been to find new chemicals among microbes closer to home. We have discovered amazingly exotic, highly specialized bacteria lurking in everyday environments. As bacteria have adopted to modern environments, so too might they hold cures for modern ills.

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