13 Scientific Studies That Show the Profound Potential of Plant Medicine
By Eric Brown / High Existence
This term, held as deeply sacred to some, and repulsively profane to others -- has been blooming up into public perception the past few years.
For good reason.
We are up against nothing short of an epidemic, a deluge of depression and anxiety infecting entire generations with our own version of the Black Plague.
Despite living in the highest quality of existence ever afforded to humans, we have staggering numbers of individuals suffering from nihilism, loneliness, depression, and crippling anxiety. This is the "general neuroses of our time" as depth psychologist Carl Jung once said.
Not to mention those who have suffered extreme mental, emotional, or physical trauma and have found effective avenues for medical help sparse and highly ineffective.
1 in 10 Americans now take some form of anti-depression medication, including children.
We have not had a significant psycho-therapeutic breakthrough since the advent of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) nearly 100 years ago. And even this is proving to be sorely lacking when helping individuals suffering from more trauma-based illness like PTSD or coping with acute traumatic experiences.
What other area of modern life hasn't been radically updated and overhauled in the last century?
Every single one of our existing "solutions" or "treatments" for mental illness falls under the band-aid approach.
They do not treat the root causes, the things generating the illness -- they simply treat the symptoms, helping to make life a little more manageable for the individual.
Now, doing this is helpful, particularly when someone is suffering deeply, but we must recognize these solutions for what they are -- temporary at best, and actually damaging at their worst.
It's like you're in a boat, in the middle of a vast ocean of experience, and you have a leak. The boat is taking on water rapidly, the reality and fear of drowning is setting in.
For a while, it is very useful to bail water out of the boat, to make the situation a little more manageable, to make it seem less intense, to slow down the process.
But in this example, we can all agree that if the leak is not fixed -- all this effort will be wasted.
We must address the root cause of the problem.
If we have a leak in our psychic boats, and the ocean of experience is quickly overwhelming us -- what does patching the leak look like? If we have mental illness -- what does an effective medicine look like?
Playing Nicely With Paradigms
The first half is quite simple -- plant -- referring to an organic substance, a physical plant, that can be consumed or applied in any number of ways -- from topical ointments, ingested as a tea, smoked, insufflated, etc.
The second half gets a little trickier -- that of medicine.
In common parlance, this is a little pill or capsule that you take to address a very specific symptom or ailment -- headache, fever, nausea, etc.
This provides a foundation for our working definition -- a medicine is something that we take to address an illness or ailment.
Given this definition, many things can be medicines, and we see this reflected in our cultural expressions as well. "Laughter is the best medicine, "love is healing," "an apple a day keeps the doctor away."
All of these things ring with the tone of medicine, they are something that address symptoms or helps prevent undesirable states of physical, mental, or emotional health.
What are we to make of plant medicines?
They are organic plant material, taken to address or manage certain physiological or psycho-spiritual ailments.
All Medicine is Plant Medicine
There's often some pushback that plants can't be medicine, that the only acceptable definition of medicine are pharmaceutical drugs that have been refined, regulated, and manufactured in a laboratory.
This couldn't be further from the truth.
The truth is that all medicine is plant medicine.
Take Aspirin. Do you think there's just a material out there in the biosphere called "aspinirium'? There isn't.
What goes into your Aspirin? Where does the raw material for pharmaceutical medications come from?
Yes, these base materials are then put through extraction, synthesis, and all other sorts of chemical manipulations to become the Aspirin you see in front of you -- but at the end of the day, all medicine comes from plants.
What Does Plant Medicine Do?
What are some of the common plant medicines that are discussed now?
Many of the ones currently studied could be called entheogens, naturally occurring psychedelic plants that have been used for generations in traditional cultures to treat all forms of psycho-somatic illnesses.
These include, but are not limited to: psilocybin mushrooms (psilocybe genus), ayahuasca (banisteriopsis capii + pschotria viridis), kambo (phyllomedusa bicolor), tea (camilla genus), and tobacco (nicotina rustica).
Many of these plant medicines, once ingested, induce some combination of physiological response with associated mental/emotional processing.
The mind/body states created here are essential in assisting individuals to process, reframe, and let go of difficult traumatic memories, or to rewrite their personal narratives into ones that are self-serving and valuable to the individual.
Plant medicines have a long and rich history throughout human history.
Quite literally, they are the most ancient and practised tool of healing and wellness we have available to us.
Tea has been used for millennia, used to treat a number of ailments from colds, fevers, and indigestion. Dragonsblood, or sangre del grado, the sap of an Amazonian tree, has powerful anti-septic properties that help protect open wounds and prevent scarring of the flesh.
This list could go on and on forever, but that's not what we're here for.
We're here for science. As a student of the Western materialist paradigm, I want to see that these medicines can stand up the rigour of the scientific method, can provide statistically-significant results in carefully-conducted experiments, and can perform at least as well as, if not better than, existing psycho-therapeutic treatments.
We've pulled together 20 studies on the efficacy and use of plant medicines.
These studies range from addiction and depression, to eating disorders and end-of-life anxiety. This list is by no means exhaustive, but is intended to show that not only can we affirm that these experiments justify the term "medicine', but also that these medicines can perform just as well (in many cases far better) than existing pharmacological or psychotherapeutic combinations. Let's dive in, to the profound power of plant medicines.
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