The Role of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia

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Interviewer: Can you talk about the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and what its role is and what that group is?

Roy Upton RH, DAyu: Yes. We founded AHP in 1995, and at that time, nobody really cared a lot about quality control of herbal products. If you know anything about the history of herbal medicine in this country, it basically disappeared around 1935, 1936. Before that, most of the medicines were herbal-based medicines. But then with chemical revolution and new techniques of isolation and synthesization and, actually, the turning medicine into more of a profitable business than it was a right of human beings to have health care, it changed the nature of medicines to go to, first, proprietary extracts and then synthesized chemicals that could be patented and controlled by a business entity.

And so herbal medicine basically disappeared and then it didn't reemerge until the 1960s with the back to nature revolution and revolution in all things. Every kind of -ism that you want to think about, as well as Eastern philosophies, Indian philosophies, interest in Native American philosophies, interest in Buddhism, traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture came in in the '70s. So this brought people back to natural health care and natural medicine.

But in that time, even though the herbal industry started to grow and started to succeed as an alternative form of medicine, much of the knowledge that people had had previously, like from the 1800s, or actually, from before the 1800s up until the 1930s when herbs disappeared, much of the knowledge of quality control of how an herb should be picked, how it should be dried, how it should be processed, what's the right time of the year to pick it, how to determine you have the right identity, how to look out for adulterations, a lot of that knowledge was lost. It was still in the old books, old what are called pharmacognosy books or old materia medicas. They were taught by some pharmacists, but very few were actually trained in how to tell the quality control of herbal medicines or herbal ingredients.

And so we were filling a niche. We saw that this was a need. Actually it came out of our work in helping to pass the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which is what the governing law of the land is for dietary supplements. And everybody on both sides of the fence, they always ask, "Well, how do you know what you know about herbs? What about quality control? What about side effects? What about use in pregnancy? Dosage?" Things like that. And I usually could address those issues pretty well because I was pretty well informed of the literature and what was going on in other countries, as well. And I come from a traditional clinical herbal medicine background. So I could answer those questions with confidence, we got to shave past.

But it still begged the question that we didn't have one repository for all of this information on herbal ingredients on the quality control. And also, we didn't' have a critical basis of knowledge of, "Well, what's the herb really good for? What are the real contraindications? What are the real side effects we should be paying attention to? What about drug interactions?" Which was now a new thing in our history of herbal medicine, which we didn't have to worry about before too much. So I realized we needed to bring this all into one place and that's how the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia was formed.
Roy Upton is the executive director of the group. He discusses the history of herbal medicine and the evolving role of the AHP.

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