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Whole Organisms or Pure Compounds? Entourage Effect Versus Drug Specificity

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Abstract

As the therapeutic use of sacred plants and fungi becomes increasingly accepted by Western medicine, a tug of war has been taking place between those who advocate the traditional consumption of whole organisms and those who defend exclusively the utilization of purified compounds. The attempt to reduce organisms to single active principles is challenged by the sheer complexity of traditional medicine. Ayahuasca, for example, is a concoction of at least two plant species containing multiple psychoactive substances with complex interactions. Similarly, cannabis contains dozens of psychoactive substances whose specific combinations in different strains correspond to different types of therapeutic and cognitive effects. The “entourage effect” refers to the synergistic effects of the multiple compounds present in whole organisms, which may potentiate clinical efficacy while attenuating side effects. In opposition to this view, mainstream pharmacology is adamant about the need to use purified substances, presumably more specific and safe. In this chapter, I will review the evidence on both sides to discuss the scientific, economic, and political implications of this controversy. The evidence indicates that it is time to embrace the therapeutic complexity of psychedelics.

Ribeiro, S. (2018). Whole organisms or pure compounds? entourage effect versus drug specificity. Plant Medicines, Healing and Psychedelic Science: Cultural Perspectives, 133-149. 10.1007/978-3-319-76720-8_8
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