Overall, the usage of herbs has shown to be safe. But, there are those herbs that have shown to be unsafe, or those whose benefits are outweighed by the harm they cause. Here we will address some of the dangers of using herbs to self-medicate.
Many people choose to use herbs to self-medicate. Many do so hoping to avoid a trip to the doctor, or to avoid the use of an “unnatural” man-made medication. Herbs seem to bring out the doctor in us.
Dr. James Duke, an herbal researcher for the U.S. Department of Agriculture warns against this practice saying, “He who self-medicates has a fool for a doctor.” But self-medicate we will; therefore it is wise to do so knowing the dangers of using herbs to self-medicate.
- Herbs are medicines! Just because they are a “natural” product does not mean that they are always safe, or that they are safe for you.
- If you choose to self-medicate, you may also choose to self-diagnose. In doing so, you may not really know what is wrong with you. You may be treating the wrong illness, which means that you are not treating what is really wrong with you, and you are taking the wrong herb(s).
- If you delay the proper treatment of an ailment, that ailment can become very serious and even incurable should conventional medicine be chosen later.
- Being unskilled in the use of herbs, you may inappropriately self-medicate. Even if you know what ailment you are treating, and you are using the correct herb regime to treat it, you may not be using the correct dosage.
- If you are taking medications prescribed by your doctor, the herbs can have detrimental effects on those medications.
- The side effects or properties of the herb that you are taking for one ailment can actually make other ailments worse.
- Being unskilled in the use of herbs, you make not be aware of the side effects or allergic reactions to watch out for.
- Not all herbs are created equal. Not all herbs are packaged and processed the same. Potencies vary from product to product. Practices vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
It should be noted, most of the points made here apply to over-the-counter medications as well. Care should always be taken with self-diagnosing and self-medicating. This why it is so important to be aware of the dangers of using herbs to self-medicate.
R.F. Chandler, PhD., professor of pharmacy at Dalhouse University in Halifax, Nova Scotia summed up the traditional medical communities’ concerns about self-medication when he said, “… most of us aren’t trained to diagnose symptoms of illness. If you start following your own hunches, herbal treatments may or may not have any benefit. But our major fear is that by diagnosing and treating yourself, you may delay detection of serious illness well beyond the point where conventional drugs can help you.”
Despite all the dangers of using herbs to self-medicate, thousands of years of continuous usage bears out the fact that herbs do work when used properly.