The Toxicology of African Herbal Remedies

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Toxicity related to traditional medicines is becoming more widely recognized as these remedies become popular in developed countries. Accidental herbal toxicity occurs not only as a result of a lack of pharmaceutic quality control in harvesting and preparation but also because herbal remedies are believed to be harmless. Although there is a huge amount of data available documenting the pharmacologically active ingredients of many plants, it is seldom helpful to the toxicologist in an acute situation. Current analytic methods such as high-performance liquid chromatography, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, and immunoassays can provide identification of the toxin in those few cases in which the history or symptoms give a clear lead, but broad screening methods remain to be developed. In most cases of plant poisoning, treatment continues to be only of symptoms, with few specific antidotes available. It is important that toxicologists in the West be alert to the possibility of encountering poisoning in patients due to traditional African remedies.

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