Who's the daddy? A paternity test for pharmaceuticals

Updated: Mar 14

In just 150 years, synthetic pharmaceuticals have dominated the health industry and culture of the West. And in that short span of time, we have already forgotten our roots.

But we humans have survived for the vast majority of our existence (which includes the golden ages) using only natural medicines. And contrary to popular myth, people did manage to live long lives in good health prior to the advent modern medicine - Pythagoras lived to 75, Ramesses II lived to 90.

It is no secret that herbal medicine is the progenitor of modern day pharmaceutical medicine. But you might be surprised to know that still today, some of the most effective and widely used medicines still rely on plants for their active therapeutic agents.

Below are some popular pharmaceuticals, and their lesser known botanical counterparts:


Codeine is a prescription pain killer and sedative, made from extracts of the Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum), also traditionally used as a sedative and pain killer. Morphine and the class-A drug heroin are also made with the opium poppy.


Aspirin is used as a general pain killer, and also to help treat fevers. It's key ingredient is an extract from Willow Bark, which is also used to treat pain, fever, and inflammation. Willow Bark is still used today as an alternative to aspirin, particularly for headaches or chronic back pain.


Artemisinin isn't as widely recognised as the first two on this list. It is one of the most effective anti-malaria medicines available, and is also commonly used to treat fevers. The key ingredient of this medicine is sourced from Wormwood (Artemisia annua), a plant that has been used to treat malaria and fevers for at least 2000 years. Wormwood has been of much interest to scientists recently after recent studies shown it to be very effective in treating Covid-19 patients.


Hydroxychloroquine is a medicine used to treat malaria, arthritis, fevers and immunity disorders. It gained popularity recently as claims it could treat and prevent Covid-19 spread like wildfire on social media. While Hydroxychloroquine itself is synthetic, it is derived from another anti-malaria medicine called Chloroquine. Chloroquine's key pharmaceutical constituent (quinine) is sourced from the Cinchona Tree (Cinchona calisaya). At the root of even completely synthetic pharmaceuticals, you'll find plants. The bark of the Cinchona Tree has been traditionally used by Native Americans to treat fevers, as well as respiratory and digestive troubles.


Auranofin is a pharmaceutical medicine used to treat arthritis. It's key ingredient is gold. Gold is also being used in the treatment of cancer, as well as for enhancing drug delivery techniques within the body. In Ayurveda, a 5000 year old medicine system from India, they have been using a locally prepared ancient nano gold medicine (known as Swarna Bhasma) as both a cancer treatment, and to also enhance the effectiveness of herbs it is combined with.

The list goes on, but you get the point. And this is not to discredit or undermine pharmaceuticals. Despite their cons, they have without a doubt saved many lives, cured diseases, and continue to help many people with chronic disorders live in relative comfort.

What this is, however, is an objective view of the facts, and the fact is people today are living longer, but not in good health. And this is largely due to relying on pharmaceuticals to reverse or manage conditions caused by an unhealthy diet and/or lifestyle.

But unlike pharmaceuticals, plants do not just contain a key disease-curing component. They also contain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients essential for good health, and that help regulate the effects of the medicinal components they contain.

This is why both food supplements and herbal remedies are in the ‘super safe’ category of individual risk - meaning risk of death from their consumption is less than 1 in 10 million. On the other hand, pharmaceutical drugs have been found to be 62,000 times more likely to kill a UK citizen than a food supplement.

We'll leave it to Dr. Andrew Weil to explain the value and avenues of a more wholly-encompassing approach to health, as well as his professional opinion on the role pharmaceuticals should play in our lives.

Video credit goes to the PowerfulJRE channel on YouTube.

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