The Role of Medicinal Plants in Modern Pharmacy

Publication
Article
Pharmacy TimesJune 2024
Volume 90
Issue 6

Researchers are working to solve consistency and ecological and ethical concerns in pharmaceutical formulations

In an era when patients are highly concerned about environmental wellness, they are embracing sustainable choices that extend beyond reducing plastic consumption and following organic diets. Their choices are evidenced in many different spheres of life, including health and wellness products. Many patients are asking questions about including plant-based medicines as an alternative to prescription or OTC medication for day-to-day health concerns.1

Stylish composition of home garden interior filled a lot of beautiful plants, cacti, succulents, air plant in different design pots. Green wall paneling. Template. Home gardening concept Home jungle - Image credit: FollowTheFlow | stock.adobe.com

Image credit: FollowTheFlow | stock.adobe.com

This shift reflects a conscious effort to align personal well-being with eco-friendly practices, highlighting the interconnectedness of individual health and global sustainability. These consumer choices have raised the need for more research about traditional medicinal knowledge and modern pharmaceutical science to develop more evidence regarding the safe use of plant-based medicines for various health concerns.

It should be noted that this consumer shift is nothing new. Plants have a long history of efficiently treating different health concerns, even thousands of years ago.2 Many Indigenous groups pioneered the use of plant-based medicines,2 leading to their contributions in modern pharmacology today.

About the Author

Clara Richardson, BSc, is a botanist and is deeply passionate about research, writing, and advocating for organic living.

APPLYING MEDICINAL PLANTS IN PHARMACEUTICAL FORMULATIONS

In the vast realm of modern medicine, there is a treasure trove of botanical wonders, each with its own unique story and healing potential. Some key botanical medicines are listed below.

Curcuma longa (turmeric)

At the heart of ancient remedies lies the radiant golden spice known as turmeric, revered for its remarkable healing properties. The active components are curcuminoids, extensively studied for their potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Through innovative techniques such as nanoparticle encapsulation, researchers are enhancing the solubility and bioavailability of curcuminbased formulations. These advancements hold promise in the treatment of conditions ranging from arthritis and Alzheimer disease to cardiovascular diseases and various forms of cancer.3

Ginkgo biloba extract (GBE)

Most known for its ability to protect the brain, GBE is like a guiding light for keeping the mind healthy. It helps improve blood flow and protects brain cells from damage with its strong antioxidants. GBE boosts brain function and slows down the worsening of dementia symptoms through antioxidant activity. However, it should be noted that the standardization of GBE is crucial for ensuring consistent therapeutic efficacy in pharmaceutical formulations designed to address cognitive health.4

Cannabis sativa

Beyond its recreational use, Cannabis sativa is emerging as a potent ally in the battle against pain and nausea. The cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system to bring about significant analgesic and antiemetic effects. As research develops, pharmaceutical formulations harnessing the therapeutic potential of C sativa are poised to revolutionize pain management while establishing precise dosing and controlled delivery systems.5

Mitragyna speciosa

Hailing from the lush tropics of Southeast Asia, Mitragyna speciosa is known for its remarkable analgesic properties, attributed to alkaloids such as mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Offering respite from pain, support through opioid withdrawal, and even mood enhancement, this botanical treasure holds immense promise. Although there are some legal and safety concerns, mitragyna speciosa has seen a 600% increase in usage6 and is available in different forms, including powders, capsules, and herbal tea. The pharmacological properties of mitragyna speciosa are under investigation for potential integration into pharmaceutical formulations, addressing issues related to abuse, dependence, and adverse effects.6

Hypericum perforatum (St John’s wort) and Aloysia triphylla (lemon verbena)

Acknowledged for its efficacy in combating depression and other mental health disorders, St John’s Wort is a very common plant-based treatment. Ongoing research is exploring its use in pharmaceuticals targeting mood disorders, presenting natural alternatives in the realm of mental health care.7

In addition, lemon verbena, from the Verbenaceae family, has been used in traditional medicine for therapeutic purposes and against depression. Research is still ongoing into the pharmaceutical applications of lemon verbena, potentially harnessing its medicinal properties for therapeutic benefits, including its potential role in mental health care.8

Cinchona bark (source of quinine) and Artemisia annua (source of artemisinin)

Quinine, isolated from Cinchona bark, has historically been used against malaria and served as a template for synthesizing chloroquine and mefloquine. The legacy of Cinchona bark continues in modern pharmacy, with derivatives like chloroquine and mefloquine serving as vital tools in the global fight against malaria.9 Moreover, artemisinin, isolated from the Chinese plant Artemisia annua, has been successfully used against chloroquine-resistant Plasmodium falciparum strains in malaria. Artemisinin and its derivatives are being used in modern antimalarial drug development, showcasing the ongoing contribution of natural compounds to pharmaceutical advancements.10

Quassia amara plants

Products made from Quassia amara plants include Potentilla erecta, carob bean, diarrhoesan, peppermint oil, fennel preparations, psyllium fiber, and others. By stimulating gastric secretion, Q amara plants emerge as plant-based allies in gastrointestinal health.11 From combating diarrhea and functional abdominal pain to easing infantile colic, these botanicals can be used in pharmaceutical formulations aimed at enhancing gastrointestinal well-being.11

WHAT ELSE?

With their diverse applications, these medicinal plants are actively shaping the landscape of modern pharmacy, offering potential breakthroughs in drug development and providing natural alternatives aligned with a holistic approach to health care. Ongoing research and advancements in formulation technologies aim to harness the therapeutic potentials of these plants for the benefit of global health. The transformation of plant extracts into pharmaceutical-grade products is a complex process that requires addressing several critical factors, including the standardization of active components, enhancement of bioavailability, and compliance with regulatory standards.

For instance, the development of curcumin-based formulations has involved technologies to improve its solubility and bioavailability, such as nanoparticle encapsulation.12 Similarly, the standardization of GBE and the extraction and formulation processes for C sativa and M speciosa are crucial for ensuring consistent therapeutic efficacy.

CHALLENGES AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS

In the process of integrating medicinal plants into modern pharmacy, there are several challenges and important considerations. Ecological concerns have emerged due to the risk of overharvesting, emphasizing the need for sustainable cultivation practices. Moreover, ethical dimensions involve the respectful treatment of traditional knowledge and responsible collaboration with Indigenous communities.13

Achieving consistency in pharmaceutical formulations proves challenging, given variations in plant growth and extraction methods. Therefore, establishing clear regulatory frameworks is crucial for approval and safety. Furthermore, understanding potential interactions with conventional medicines, safeguarding traditional knowledge, and fostering public awareness are equally vital aspects. Ongoing challenges include securing research funding, monitoring resistance, and ensuring affordability for diverse populations. A balance between economic viability and ethical practices is essential for the sustainable development of plant-based medicines.

CONCLUSION

Medicinal plants represent a collaboration of tradition and innovation in drug development, offering effective and natural alternatives to synthetic drugs. As scientists explore the medicinal properties of these plants, incorporating them into modern pharmacy could change the health care landscape, moving toward more holistic and integrated methods.

References
1. McCaffrey AM, Pugh GF, O’Connor BB. Understanding patient preference for integrative medical care: results from patient focus groups. J Gen Intern Med. 2007;22(11):1500-1505. doi:10.1007/s11606-007-0302-5
2. Petrovska BB. Historical review of medicinal plants’ usage. Pharmcogn Rev.2012;6(11):1-5. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.95849
3. Ahmed T, Gilani AH. Inhibitory effect of curcuminoids on acetylcholinesterase activity and attenuation of scopolamine-induced amnesia may explain medicinal use of turmeric in Alzheimer’s disease. Pharmacol Biochem Behav.2009;91(4):554-559. doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2008.09.010
4. Nguyen T, Alzahrani T. Ginkgo biloba. StatPearls. Updated July 3, 2023. Accessed May 6, 2024. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541024/
5. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on the Health Effects of Marijuana: An Evidence Review and Research Agenda. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. 2017; National Academies Press (US); 2017.
6. Kratom usage stats – highlighting the socioeconomic Kratom demographics. Klarity Kratom. December 21, 2023. Accessed May 6, 2024. https://klaritykratom.com/blog/kratom-usage-stats/
7. St. John’s wort. Mayo Clinic. August 10, 2023. Accessed May 6, 2024. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-st-johns-wort/art-20362212
8. Rashid HM, Mahmod AI, Afifi FU, Talib WH. Antioxidant and antiproliferation activities of lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora): an in vitro and in vivo study. Plants (Basel). 2022;11(6):785. doi:10.3390/plants11060785
9. Achan J, Talisuna AO, Erhart A, et al. Quinine, an old anti-malarial drug in a modern world: role in the treatment of malaria. Malar J.2011;10:144. doi:10.1186/1475-2875-10-144
10. Gilani A. Role of medicinal plants in modern medicine. Malay J Sci. 2005;24:1-5.
11. Rasool A, Bhat KM, Sheikh AA, Jan A, Hassan S. Medicinal plants: role, distribution and future. J Pharmo Phyto. 2020;9(2):2111-2114.
12. Chen Y, Lu Y, Lee RJ, Xiang G. Nano encapsulated curcumin: and its potential for biomedical applications. Int J Nanomedicine. 2020;15:3099-3120. doi:10.2147/IJN.S210320
13. Chatfield K, Salehi B, Sharifi-Rad J, Afshar L. Applying an ethical framework to herbal medicine. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018;2018:1903629. doi:10.1155/2018/1903629
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