For centuries, native people have used the rainforest as a source of medicinal plants. Modern pharmeceutical companies have come to recognize the healing properites of many rainforest plants, and have begun to examine medicinal plants of the rainforest in order to synthesize the healing chemicals found in these plants for use in medicine. Today, about 37% of medicines prescribed in the US are derived from rainforest plants, including treatments for cancer, malaria, heart disease, diabetes and many others. Incredibly, only about 5% of rainforest plants have been analyzed for their medicinal properties, which means there’s a likely a great deal of potential waiting to be tapped.
According to the National Cancer Institute, 70 percent of known anti-cancer plants come from plants found in rainforests. There is also a new drug being developed called Calanolide A that could possibly be used to treat HIV. This drug comes from a tree found in the rainforest on Borneo.
Another type of medicine that is derived from the Amazon Rainforest is ayahuasca, a drink made from the brewing of a liana vine, Banisteriopsis caapi, and the leaves of a shrub, Psychotria viridis. Combining the two plants produces a powerful chemical reaction that produces an intense hallucinogenic experience. It has been used by dozens of indigenous tribes for hundreds or even thousands of years. Though the most traditional purpose of imbibing this sacred drink is for a shaman to detect a source of illness and extract it, as it has disseminated through Latin America and now worldwide, ayahuasca is being consumed for all sorts of spiritual, emotional and physical ailments. Ethnobotanists and anthropologists have investigated ayahuasca use in various settings and have discovered its healing benefits in facets such as recovering from alcoholism, improving self-esteem and self-worth, and even easing diseases like cancer. Furthermore, some groups of ayahuasca users, like the Santo Daime syncretic religion, regard ayahuasca as a sacrament that can help them reach all the spirits of the Earth in order to heal the planet and the people. Ayahuasca is my personal and academic area of interest and focus, so if anyone would like more specific information on ayahuasca, please ask some questions.
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