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WHO Expert Committee on Specifications for Pharmaceutical Preparations - WHO Technical Report Series, No. 863, Annex 11 (Guidelines for the Assessment of Herbal Medicines) - Thirty-fourth Report
(1996; 8 pages) [French] [Spanish]
Table of Contents
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentAssessment of quality
View the documentAssessment of safety
View the documentAssessment of efficacy
View the documentIntended use
View the documentUtilization of these guidelines

Assessment of safety

This should cover all relevant aspects of the safety assessment of a medicinal product. A guiding principle should be that, if the product has been traditionally used without demonstrated harm, no specific restrictive regulatory action should be undertaken unless new evidence demands a revised risk-benefit assessment.

A review of the relevant literature should be provided with original articles or references to the original articles. If official monograph/review results exist, reference can be made to them. However, although long-term use without any evidence of risk may indicate that a medicine is harmless, it is not always certain how far one can rely solely on long-term usage to provide assurance of innocuity in the light of concern expressed in recent years over the long-term hazards of some herbal medicines.

Reported side-effects should be documented according to normal pharmacovigilance practices.

Toxicological studies

Toxicological studies, if available, should be part of the assessment. Literature should be indicated as above.

Documentation of safety based on experience

As a basic rule, documentation of a long period of use should be taken into consideration when assessing safety. This means that, when there are no detailed toxicological studies, documented experience of long-term use without evidence of safety problems should form the basis of the risk assessment. However, even in cases of drugs used over a long period, chronic toxicological risks may have occurred but may not have been recognized. The period of use, the health disorders treated, the number of users and the countries with experience should be specified. If a toxicological risk is known, toxicity data must be submitted. The assessment of risk, whether independent of dose or related to dose, should be documented. In the latter case, the dosage specification must be an important part of the risk assessment. An explanation of the risks should be given, if possible. Potential for misuse, abuse or dependence must be documented. If long-term traditional use cannot be documented or there are doubts on safety, toxicity data should be submitted.


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