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The Psychopharmacology of Herbal Medicine: Plant Drugs That Alter Mind, Brain, and Behavior

The Psychopharmacology of Herbal Medicine:  Plant Drugs That Alter Mind, Brain,
Marcello Spinella
MIT Press
Publication Date: 

paper, 578 p., $24.95

Marcello Spinella has written a concise, albeit high-level, reference on the psychopharmacologic effects of herbal medicine. The text is intended for researchers and health-care providers, but can be appealing to the intellectually curious who are interested in informed consumerism regarding the use of alternative and complementary treatments. The topics covered include basic neuroscience, basic pharmacology, stimulant plants, cognitive enhancers, herbal sedatives and anxiolytics, psychotherapeutic herbs, analgesic and anesthetic plants, and Cannabis. The author has also included in-depth reference and recommended reading lists.

The text is not intended to be a guide to the prescription or use of these agents. The author includes a disclaimer in this regard and emphasizes the importance of consulting with a health-care provider before self-administering herbal remedies. Alternative medicinal agents have been relied upon to an ever-increasing degree by individuals suffering from chronic conditions such as back problems, anxiety, depression and headaches. Caution when deciding to use herbal substances cannot be overemphasized; herbal medicines can be just as toxic or deadly as synthetic medications.

The relative lack of empirical research evidence has discouraged health-care providers from prescribing herbal remedies. With the lack of FDA oversight and regulation, herbal remedies have been classified as "dietary supplements." This leaves the consumer with the responsibility of making an informed decision before using an alternative herbal medication. The text emphasizes the fact that psychoactive plants have always been a part of human life. The author has provided the reader with an important resource in learning about the use of and indications for psychoactive herbal remedies.

— Amy M. Lewitz, Master Gardener and Volunteer, Plant Information Office, Chicago Botanic Garden