The Effects of Pharmaceuticals in the Environment

The pharmaceutical industry is one of the largest industries in the world, trailing not far behind the arms industry.  It has made great inroads in disease prevention, treatment and cure, and I’m sure the majority of people working in the industry are driven by a desire to help cure people or at least make their ill-health more manageable.  However, according to Dr Charles Partido ND in 1996 the 3rd leading cause of death in the USA was medical drugs and the 8th largest killer of Americans was iatrogenic disease (diseases caused by doctors treatments)!!  So their impact on our immediate environments, our bodies, is not always beneficial.

Now add to that the impact of pharmaceuticals on the ecosystem.  Vast quatities of chemicals are of course used in the production of pharmaceuticals, but it is not just these and the chance that some industrial effluent may escape into the environment that is of concern.  It is also what happens once we, the consumers, have ingested them.  They do their job (or not!) in the body and then we excrete what’s left.  Some of this inevitably ends up back in the ecosystem as not all the chemicals are removed in waste water treatment plants.  And so the chemical laden water recycles back through the system into ground water and eventually our drinking water supply.

Take aspirin as an example.  One would have thought it relatively benign as its active ingredient salicylic acid occurs naturally in willow and other plants.  About 100 million lbs of aspirin are ingested worldwide each year – Americans buy 30 billion aspirin tablets alone (Newmark & Sclick, 2000).  now, large concentrations of aspirin in the environment have knock on effects including inhibiting the growth of certain plants and reducing or even removing the ability of some plants to set seed.

So how do we reduce our dependence on pharmaceuticals?  What can we do?  Well, interestingly, many minor ailments and injuries can easily and effectively be treated by plants that you most likely already have growing in your neighbourhood.  Indeed, until the beginning of the last century, and in rural areas of many less “developed” countries to this day, plants are (or were) regularly used as remedies.  In the UK we have lost our confidence in using  and our connection to plant remedies.

Learning to trust nature, getting to know how a plant makes you feel, discovering which plants can help with what – all these things can empower you, deepen your connection to the environment and reduce trips to the pharmacy.  Like growing your own food, growing your own medicines enriches your life, makes you appreciate nature more and has a very low impact.  At a time of concern for the planet, in the shadow of peak oil, resource depletion and ecocide, is it not time to turn around and, like our ancestors before us, look to the abundance of resources literally growing on our doorstep?

Over the next 6 months I will be leading a small group of people on a journey of rediscovery.  We will be connecting with nature, not just plants, but also our bodies.  We will use a variety of ancient methods to communicate with plants so that we can discover their medicinal properties, we will then harvest and make remedies with them.  If you would like to join us there are still spaces available – read more about the workshop here…

If you want to read more about the effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment I passionately recommend The Lost Language of Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner.


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