A phytochemical analysis of some ancient narcotics, with comparative notes on some South African folk medical practices
Van den Berg, Marlene
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Ancient medicine is a fast-growing field of research at international level, but since successful research implies both medical (or pharmaceutical) knowledge and the ability to read Latin and Greek, only one classicist in South Africa has published on the topic in co-operation with a medical doctor. Although the professional and scholarly literature on ancient Greek and Roman medicine has proliferated in the last few decades, few studies have appeared that focus on narcotics and analgesics, their effects as observed and recorded by physicians, pharmacologists, and medical botanists, and an evaluation according to modern pharmacology or phytochemistry. The study is especially topical in the light of the modern-day search for herbal medicines and the renewed interest in South African ethno botanical traditions (e.g. Afrikaner, Zulu, Swazi) as opposed to chemically prepared narcotics. Phytochemical properties of crude drugs have predictable physiological effects in the living human organism. Therefore, presuming that humans have not changed except incrementally in their physiological chemistry over the short span of two millennia, one can likewise document the effects of narcotics and analgesics in Graeco-Roman pharmacology, provided that the botanical sources and their manufactured forms are carefully identified. A secondary assumption is that ancient plants also carried phytochemical properties generally identical to modern ones, so that the descriptive nomenclatures of modern botany and phytochemistry reveal multiple pharmacological principles and their actions in ancient drugs, as well as their potentially undesirable side effects.
- Humanities