(1997; 248 pages) [French]
3.4 Herbal products
The use of herbal and other naturally occurring substances is part of the fabric of traditional medicine. Because of the complex, and sometimes imprecise nature of the ingredients they contain and the paucity of scientific information on their properties, products containing these substances, often in combination, can rarely be reviewed on a rigorously scientific basis. Where time-honoured practices do no apparent harm, there is no urgency for regulatory intervention other than to set up a system for provisional registration.
However, prolonged and apparently uneventful use of a substance offers insecure testimony of its safety. In a few instances, recently commissioned investigations of the potential toxicity of naturally occurring substances widely used as ingredients in these preparations have revealed a previously unsuspected potential for systemic toxicity, carcinogenicity and teratogenicity. Small regulatory authorities need to be quickly and reliably informed of these findings. They should also have the authority to respond promptly to such alerts, either by withdrawing or varying the licences of registered products containing the suspect substance, or by rescheduling the substance in order, for instance, to disallow its use by practitioners who are not medically qualified.
All regulatory authorities should also be alert to the practice of incorporating potent pharmacologically active compounds, such as steroids, into herbal preparations. When this is done clandestinely, it is a manifestly dangerous practice which demands immediate withdrawal of the products and a review of the manufacturer’s licence.