Top 10 Plants That Led To Useful And Lifesaving Drugs

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Med students have to learn about a vast amount of drugs in medical school and are expected to know about them. You might be surprised how many medicines were actually derived from nature. Many know that aspirin is derived from willow bark, but few realize just how many other medications are derived from plants.

A number of very common and useful medications employed today have extremely interesting histories and were taken from nature. I am a medical student myself, and I hope you find the origins of these medications to be as fascinating as I do.

10. Cannabis Sativa And Dronabinol

The Cannabis sativa plant has been part of the recent controversy regarding the legality of marijuana. While marijuana is most commonly associated with the cannabis plant, there is another extremely useful pharmaceutical that has come from it.

Many know the symptoms of marijuana intoxication, including red eyes, dilated pupils, dry mouth, increased appetite, slowed reaction time, euphoria, dizziness, shallow breathing, and increased heart rate. While some of these symptoms seem unappealing, the medical community has found others to be useful in treating certain populations of patients.

The drug dronabinol has been created as a synthetic form of THC to utilize some of marijuana’s side effects. There are various uses for the drug, but most commonly, it is used as an appetite stimulant for patients with AIDSand as an antiemetic in patients receiving chemotherapy.[1]

While there has been some controversy regarding the use of dronabinol, it has been shown to be minimally harmful with a low potential for abuse. Who knew that giving someone the munchies could be so beneficial?

9. Podophyllum Peltatum And Etoposide

The Native Americans have recorded using the plant Podophyllum peltatumas a purgative, antiparasitic, and cathartic hundreds of years before its usefulness was officially recognized. Interestingly, the Penobscot people of Maine even appeared to be using it to treat “cancer.” The Iroquois additionally used it to treat snakebites and as a suicide agent. Despite this, the medical use for P. peltatum was not official in the United States until 1820 and not until 1861 in Europe.

Hartmann Stahelin was a Swiss pharmacologist who had made large contributions to the cancer therapy field. He had a particular proclivity for biomedical sciences and was recruited to lead the pharmacology department in Basel in hopes of researching cancer and immunology in 1955.[2]

Once in Basel, he lead the discovery of various antitumor agents from P. peltatum, also known as mayapple. Initially considered by chemists to be “dirt,” Stahelin noticed that a particular extract from the Podophyllum plant had interesting properties. After purifying this compound, it was found to be a new class of antitumor medication.

Named etoposide, the medication works by stopping the tumor cells’ ability to divide. It blocks a specific enzyme that cells need in order to replicate. Therefore, rapidly dividing cells such as cancer cells are heavily affected. Currently, etoposide is used to treat various cancers, especially that of the lung, and can be thanked for saving many lives.

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