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Herbal Medicine Study Puts Risk in Perspective

By Andrew Ward on September 7, 2018

Those who support prohibition tend to justify their position by listing all the potential risks, which they say includes cannabis-induced mania. But if that's grounds for banning generally safe substances, the prohibition list should be much, much longer. 

The Australian study "Mania Associated with Herbal Medicines, Other Than Cannabis" examined a wide range of herbal products to test their effects on mania. In the course of studying a few dozen applicable cases, the researchers concluded that plenty of what is legal to buy has the potential to trigger mental health conditions. Overall, the study concluded that, "the association between herbal medicines and the course of bipolar disorder may contribute to defining targets for pathophysiological research." 

To reach their conclusion, researchers analyzed 35 case reports of herbal medicine associated mania, hypomania, and two mixed states reports in 17 females and 18 males. The herbal medicines assessed were St. John's wort, ginseng, brindleberry, ma-huang, "herbal slimming pills," Herbalife products, Hydroxycut, and horny goat weed, among others. The co-authors studied each case individually and then assessed the results together to determine a consensus score based on a series of indices, including raw agreement, kappa coefficient and intraclass correlation coefficient. 

The most common appearance in reports were St. John's wort, with 14 cases that included instances of mania, hypomania and two mixed states. Each person had some history of either bipolar disorder, depression or antidepressants in his or her report. Ginseng was the second most common herbal medicine in the analysis with five instances. Notably, weight-loss supplements received particular attention in the report. Noting society's pressure to stay thin, 13 case studies involved Herbalife, Hydroxycut or a similar weight-loss product that led to adverse psychiatric effects in subjects. 

Though the study produced inconclusive results between herbal medicines and mania, the co-occurrence of the two "provides a plausible signal" to the brain mechanisms relevant to the development of mania. The analysis also notes that, with electronic records becoming easier accessible, information on the subject could become more available in the future. 

Overall, the analysis found that several herbal medicines might involve more potential risk than cannabis. Prohibitionists fail to highlight these findings as it would be a damning piece of evidence against their arguments, especially since they may even consume some of these herbal products themselves. Yet, when synthetics and unknown substances can cause more than 70 people to overdose in one day, one has to wonder what are the truly dangerous elements. 

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