by Negash Alamin
I remember when I was a child I had this infection on my face that wouldn’t go away. And my parents who I can’t call educated but had this super parental love for me; took me to a traditional healer and he gave them some sort of herb to be applied on my face. My parents are high school graduates and never read a book in their lives; atleast not that I know of; thus, cannot be called sophisticated. But, have so much love for their son; they will do anything to save him from ailments and dangers. My father is a businessman and my mother is a house mother. My family is not intellectually inclined; they are by far superstitious and traditional. The immediate reaction for an illness is let’s take this boy to a traditional herbalist or a mystical exorcist. This plainly indicates that the society and family I was born and raised in is extremely backward, irrational and enthusiastic. Anyways, eventually this herb worked and my injury was healed. I did not how that herb worked but it did. But, I also remember a family member who had a thyroid tumor and was being treated for it in scientific medicine; but, enthusiastically choose to try out traditional ‘alternative medicine’ and died the next day. So, we can say that the problem with herbalism is specificity; modern science started as alchemy, witchcraft etc. and was refined through the application of logic to become modern medicine.
I know many people that have been cured by herbalists and also killed by herbalists. We do not know how it works and how it kills; we don’t know how the drug and body interact; the dosage etc. It is shrouded in mystery and this is the very reason we have fields called pharmacology and toxicology; to study the therapeutic and poisonous effects of drugs on the body. This is the very reason why the scientific method was formulated; to separate the quacks from the healers and the medicine from the poison. It exists to clear this ambiguity in healthcare; it attempts to be specific and state plainly what the active agent of a specific herb is and what its interaction with the body is really like I believe this scientific approach is called pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics in pharmacology.
Anyhow, several cures came from plants like Aspirin for fever, Artemisinin for malaria, Morphine for pain, Marijuana extracts for epilepsy, and so on. But, the problem with traditional herbalists is that they are secretive, mystical, and enthusiastic. This is a huge hinderance to the pursuit of truth. It hinders our investigation in finding out what the active ingredient of a herb actually is. It will create that vagueness and mysticism I mentioned earlier which acts as a cover for quacks to exploit and derail the common people. It will hinder the identificaton of truth and the categorization of pseudoscience and euscience accordingly. It will hinder the formulation of dosage to body ratio; the formulation of side effects related with the drug and other mechanisms. We should remember that herbs are also drugs. They are made up of atoms and molecules; they need to be studied openly and understood just like other chemicals.
So the overall conclusion is that traditional medicine does work in certain instances as was the case for me; but, it is not objective and rational. It also kills and cons people as is the case with quacks and self-appointed ‘healers.’ We should be careful in categorizing two dicotmies of alternative medicine here:
1-Traditional medicine (material science without rationalism)
2- ‘Spiritual’ healing (zealotic immaterial madness)
Now, herbalism is atleast better than the so called faith healings or should I say faith killings or spiritual healing. Because, in faith healing there is no material foundation; the spiritualists are delusional. There is no material to experiment with like in plant based herbalism. So the so called spiritual healing is total garbage for me. Herbalists atleast deal with something physical like plant leaves and roots etc. But, Pastors are detached from the material world; and loose themselves in zelotry in an attempt to ‘heal’ the patient. Which is a very wrong approach and might cause more morbidity and mortality than what they attempt to solve.The patient or should I say the victim of ‘faith healing’ might drop dead right there; drolling all over the floor rather than be whole again. He might acquire more diseases than what he already has. He might go in for diabetes and might come out as psychotic. But, herbalists are atleast realistic they deal with something material but their error lies in methodology; they only need to be rational inorder to join the mainstream material sciences like pharmacology.
I think it is very important to realize that it does not matter whether it is called traditional aka alternative medicine or conventional scientific medicine; we are dealing with the material world. Patients who are made up of atoms and drugs in the form of atoms. And these drugs whether concocted in a plant form or refined specifically as a pill are compounds and molecules that need to obey the scrutiny of the scientific method. This will bring alternative traditional medicine into mainstream medicine; it will force it to be a material science; which will be safer for patients.
Zeoltry, enthusiasm, mysticism and secrecy which shrouds tradtional medicine are the signs of weak intelligence; an intelligence that is frail and incapable of refining its sometimes effective medications in detail; the field of alternative medicine needs to be dymystified and rationalized. It should not represent a field incapable of figuring out specific mathematical drug dosage, drug interaction, absorption and excretion of its remedies. But, if it does embrace logical methodology; then, I think traditional or alternative medicine can contribute so much to the world considering where most modern drugs come from.