From time to time my fellow pharmacists have to listen to me mull over ideas that are bouncing around in my mind in response to data I review.
Although I’ve talked to them about this topic quite awhile ago, I revisited it last night as we discussed the post I wrote recently about the use of Boswellia serrata (indian frankincense) to treat brain tumors. http://thatcrazypharmacist.com/?p=481
Ths gist of my thoughts are summarized in this question:
If a substance’s only value was that it smelled or tasted good would it have 1. historically been more expensive than gold? 2. been incorporated into legends across multiple societies and religions as a gift to their most important religious and hero personages? 3. generated a demand that supported entire industries and elaborate distribution systems? or 4. caused multi-year wars?
You get my point?
Cinnamon, Pepper, Frankincense, Myrrh, Cloves…. I’m sure you can name more than I can think of off the top of my head, and with only one exception – salt – these spices were not critical to preserving foods.
In fact, if you dig through the materials published by the experts on the forgotten physicians and healers across the world and across all cultures, you will find that these agents were actually deriving their value from their usefulness as medicinal agents.
Frankincense has demonstrated capabilities for treating arthritis, asthma, and other inflammatory maladies for centuries. It is now also being seriously looked at by researchers as a therapy for some cancers.
Myrrh has also been used historically for the treatment of tumors and other maladies, and is more often as not a component of any herbal mixture that contains frankinsence. In fact, in at least one animal based study it has been reported to be as effective as a chemotherapy drug for the treatment of cancer.
And, interestingly enough, it is possible that a component of many spices – and a major component of extracts of marijuana – is also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent that might have utility for the treatment of inflammatory conditions.
That substance is B-Caryophyllene, and it’s been shown to be a non-psychoactive cannabinoid receptor stimulator.
Found in high levels in cinnamon, pepper, cloves, many other spices and marijuana, it is commonly used today as a food additive and spice. In fact, you can buy it in quantities larger than you would ever need if you really want to.
In animal studies it worked to strongly reduce inflammation at low concentrations, but not at high concentrations. You can find a copy of the journal article detailing the study’s results here: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2008/06/23/0803601105.abstract .
I think this is interesting, as the major sources most people would encounter would always deliver low doses at the levels of ingestion that peoples’ cullinary practices would allow.
Is it possible that we’ve adapted our needs to what mother nature would normally deliver?
Even more interestingly, I suspect that B-Caryophyllene plays a very significant role in the medical utility of marijuana extracts.
So, maybe the ancients knew by observation what naturally occuring substances could be used to keep us healthy and cure our ills?
It’s something to think about, don’t you think?
Please pass the pepper.
Remember, I’m not a Physician – just a crazy pharmacist. You need to talk this information over with your physician.