HED: Ole Miss study shows herbal medicines need standardization

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

OXFORD - Pharmacists would stock and recommend more natural medicines if the products could be standardized to ensure that each dose and each brand contained the same amount of active ingredients, a nationwide survey by the University of Mississippi has shown.

In the study sponsored by Botalia Pharmaceutical, Ole Miss graduate student Alicia Bouldin surveyed 512 pharmacists nationwide and found that, while the majority stock herbal medicines, 96 percent felt they did not know enough about them to recommend them to customers.

Sixty-six percent of the pharmacists also said they don't believe the manufacture of herbal medicines is standardized enough to allow consistent dosage levels from pill to pill or brand to brand.

The survey is important, sponsors said, because of the growth in the herbal medicine market, which is expected to top $5 billion in sales in the U.S. alone by the year 2000.

"Thirty years ago or so schools began dropping work on standardizing natural medicines, but we started expanding ours," said Dr. Mickey Smith, Barnard professor of pharmacy administration at Ole Miss. "It looks like we did the right thing."

John Hale, chief operations officer for Botalia Pharmaceutical, agreed.

"The University of Mississippi study plays right into where we're going," Hale said. "Herbal medicines are moving more toward the mainstream but ... pharmacists are not keeping up."

The survey showed only 15 percent of pharmacists were aware of the common uses of herbal medicines sold over the counter. Herbal medicines are those products whose active ingredients are derived from plants such as ginseng or garlic.

"Respondents reported they get an average of about 10 requests monthly from patients for information on herbal medicines," said Bouldin, who is working on her master's degree in pharmacy administration.

The new trend toward natural medicines that can be bought without a prescription is being fueled by aging baby boomers, a trend that has not gone unnoticed by large marketers of herbal products.

"In the last five years there has been a major trend toward self-medication," said Mo Siegel, chief executive officer for Celestial Seasonings, the parent company of Botalia. Celestial Seasonings makes herbal teas and other products from plant sources.

"Self-medication is becoming more important," Siegel said. "Now you can get Pepcid and some more potent (over-the-counter) products."

The most important need in the herbal medicine market, the survey found, was for standardization of the level of active ingredient.

"We need a standardized extract versus ground-up herbs," said Siegel. "The consumer needs to know every time they take that pill that they're getting the exact same dosage."

Currently, the amount of active ingredient in a plant can vary even among plants grown in the same field and harvested at the same age.

The survey results will be used to target pharmacists for education and training in herbal medicine uses and benefits and to begin a push for standards within the industry.

Smith said Ole Miss was uniquely qualified to assist in that effort since it is home to the nation's only legal marijuana production facility, where the plants are grown to meet a standard that researchers can rely on as a baseline for their research.

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