Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | December 14, 2010

Your Right to Herbal Medicines is Under Threat

Here is a guest post by Maria Ede-Weaving. Like Maria, and thousands of other people, I have experienced the enormous benefits that herbal medicine can bring. But now  it seems that the EU is buddying up with the pharmaceutical companies to restrict our access to natural healing:

Crone berries

My interest in Druidry has meant that herbs hold a fascination for me.  However, I have never been biased in the direction of either alternative or conventional therapies when it comes to choosing treatments. Use whatever works seems a sensible motto to me. Sadly, this freedom to choose one’s own preferred health care is now being put in jeopardy by a particularly short-sighted EU Directive. This piece of worrying legislation – coming into being next April – is called The Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive and will restrict the range of herbal medicines that can be prescribed. It will impact negatively on many folks like me who are currently finding benefit through being treated by a Herbal Practitioner.
Motherwort, shatavari, gelsemium, peony, myrrh and tree of life are just a few of the wonderfully named and magical substances that I have been ingesting over these last five months. After a couple of years of seeking conventional medical help for a worsening condition, the first half of this year saw me struggling with horrendous side-effects from the treatments I had been prescribed by my G.P. Not only did these particular treatments make my original symptoms drastically worse, they gave me some debilitating new ones too. After six exhausting months – and with the only options left to me being invasive surgery – I made the decision to buy myself some time and explore some alternative therapies.
I am happy to say that my Medical Herbalist – the appropriately named Wendy Budd – has been successfully helping me to reclaim my health. Rather than treating me as a set of isolated symptoms – which had been my recent experience of the conventional approach – she has engaged with the whole me, trying to put together a clearer picture of my life, from diet and exercise to emotional and mental states that might be impacting on my health. With Wendy I felt truly listened to; in an age when ever tightening budgets dominate health care, this empathetic exchange between patient and healer often gets lost. It is a tragedy because, as we all instinctively know, it is such a crucial part of the healing process. After almost all my doctor and hospital appointments, I left feeling very low; after Wendy, I was practically doing cartwheels! I am delighted that my symptoms have significantly improved and my overall well-being and energy level has started to return. Considering the hopelessness that I felt back in the early summer, I could never have envisaged getting to this point.
Having come this far, I feel angry that my progress will be undermined by an ill-thought out Directive that I cannot

Hawthorn Blossom

stop. The Directive aims to protect us from untested substances. Of course, this ends up favouring the major pharmaceuticals because they are wealthy enough to pay for drug tests and trials. It is not possible for independent practitioners or small herbal producers to come by the kind of cash that would be needed to pass a particular herb as ‘safe’. It is very convenient for the major companies to have the competition from independent alternatives wiped out in one go by this legislation. It leaves me feeling more than a little cynical about the reasoning behind this unfair law.
It also begs the question ‘what is safe’? I spent six months taking drugs that had been legally approved but which made me ill. Every drug company will tell you that no matter how much testing is done, no one really knows how that drug will react with the individual. It is all rather ‘hit and miss’.
I am taking very small doses of belladonna and gelsemium; these herbs can be deadly in the wrong doses but are amazing pain killers in the right amounts. Under the new directive, Wendy could no longer prescribe these for me. My past intake of conventional painkillers was at the maximum allowed and these were starting to impact painfully on my digestive system. Thanks to these two incredible plants, I have cut my use of painkillers practically down to nothing. The Directive will force me back onto large doses of painkiller with all the accompanying side-effects, or onto the black market to find someone who will give me these herbs. Considering the very real risk to my health this would threaten, it shows how ridiculously skewed the thinking of this Directive is.
Practically everything we do in life involves some kind of risk but I agree that medical practitioners or suppliers should be accountable. However, this Directive throws the proverbial baby out with the bath water and will put out of work many excellent herbalists and herbal producers – skilful people who have trained for years and are helping and healing others. It also pushes aside a collective herbal wisdom that has been gathered over time by many dedicated healers; information and treatment which could be of enormous use to many people in need.
The Directive cannot be overturned at this stage but in the UK herbalists are fighting to become statutorily regulated by the Health Professions Council before April 2011. This will confer upon them a legal status that will preserve their right to prescribe a full range of herbal medicines.
If you feel as strongly as I do, please write to your MP, also to Mark Prist MP (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills) and Anne Milton MP (Under Secretary of State, Public Health), or to the appropriate people in your own countries, expressing your concern about safeguarding our rights to receive herbal medicines. There is also a Europe-wide petition, with more information on the issue, here: http://www.gopetition.com/petition/39757.html

Visit Maria’s blog A Druid Thurible here.


Responses

  1. Dear Philip
    Thank you for this post. As a medical herbalist I am very concerned that I will be able to serve my patients properly after 30th April next year if statutory regulation does not go ahead. We have been working hard for this for many years, but a quick look at the history of herbal medicine will let you see that herbalists have been seeking recognition for a very long time indeed (Henry 8th).
    We don’t want to see herbal medicine disappear but at the same time we want to make sure people are protected from charlatans. I’m not suggesting that every person who has not done the sort of training I did is a charlatan – what I’m talking about are the people out to make a quick buck by selling people things when what they are selling might be a wrongly identified plant, the wrong part of a plant, or simply not appropriate for that person because of their health. Statutory regulation will protect people because it will make sure that people are properly trained plus the herbs available will be traceable and verified (for herbalists they are already).
    It’s a bit like the old back street abortions that used to happen only this time it will be the sale of herbs over the internet which is and will be completely unregulated.

    No SR also means considerable job losses across the country – herb growers and suppliers employ people, but they make use of transport and delivery firms, bottle suppliers, and all sorts. Some herbs are grown commercially in different parts of the world by sustainable methods so rural communities in some of the poorest countries in the world could be decimated, and their livelihoods destroyed – or they may replace the herbs they grow with other crops that are not sustainable.
    The implications are huge and very far-reaching.

    I can send you the letter that I have given to my patients to send to their MP if you want to post it here.

  2. Do send the letter Laura – it might help others to know what to write!

  3. hi philip

    myabe i’m being a little cynical, but there is one herb which is used the world over, for at least 5,000 years which will be caught up in this legislation. although it’s not currently available on prescription in the uk, in many places around the world (such as some states in the usa) it is prescribed.

    in the uk, this herb’s full and complex molecular stucture cannot be synthesized and so, it is extracted under special home office licence, a medical exemption to the controlled drugs laws. Oddly, such an exemption is illegal under european law and yet this company extacts, processes and exports the net results (via its trading organisation “GW Pharmaceuticals”) world wide, for use by medical establishements where it is allowed to be provided for a range of conditions, free of the many side effects associated with synthesized pharmaceuticals.

    Its extraction-based product remains on the market illegally, though internationally sanctioned, yet those selling the same herbal product, not extracted but in its herbal form, are subject to arrest with the full weight of the law against them. Due to this legal disparity, massive crime syndicates handle the majority of world-wide sales, policing of the law costs even more and millions of people world wide are labled criminals.

    Were this law brought in, the synthesized product would remain. Even if its herbal form were decriminalized, this law would effectively prevent it from being used in any form, other than the extracted, manufactured and corporately sanctioned version.

    a worryingly predictable hacking of the matrix


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