The Safety Of Herbal Drug Alternatives

On Tuesday night Lamar Odom, an NBA player and ex-member of the Kardashian clan, was discovered in a brothel unconscious with herbal Viagra and other recreational drugs found in his system. He was taken to a hospital in Las Vegas, where he remains on life support. The widespread media coverage of this event has led many people to question the safety of herbal drug alternatives.

The issue with herbal drug remedies is that they are categorized as dietary supplements, so the FDA treats them much differently than prescription and OTC drugs. The FDA requirements for drugs are highly stringent, and any drug must meet a number of health and safety standards before it can be approved. In contrast, dietary supplements are considered a special type of food and don’t have to undergo any clinical trials to gain approval. Drugs are considered unsafe until proven to be safe, while dietary supplements are considered safe until proven to be unsafe. However, a new government study recently found that conditions caused by dietary supplements lead to over 20,000 ER visits each year.  

Many herbal supplements are completely safe, such as multivitamins, but consumers should be wary of the ingredients listed on the packaging of any dietary supplement. A 2013 study that examined 44 different herbal supplements found that less than half of the supplements tested contained any amount of the herb they were labeled for. Most of them contained a large amount of fillers and contaminants. This is not just misleading, but it is dangerous for the consumer who believes they are ingesting a safe and tested drug.

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Hidden ingredients also present a health risk of herbal supplements. The FDA has issued a number of warnings about herbal dietary supplements that claim to boost sexual performance. Many of these herbal enhancement drugs have been found to contain secret active ingredients, yet they are sold over the counter with most people unaware that such products haven’t been tested for safety.   For example, the herbal drug found in Odom’s system is called Reload, and it can be purchased at drug stores and even in vending machines. Reload advertises itself as an herbal alternative to Viagra – but studies have shown that Reload actually contains sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. Reload is essentially Viagra dressed up as an herbal supplement, facing almost no safety regulations.  

In another case, a dietary supplement was listed to have all natural ingredients from the geranium plant, but was actually found to contain the man-made stimulant DMMA. The hidden ingredient found in that herbal supplement was only exposed after a number of serious incidents, including several deaths, prompted an investigation.   One must proceed with caution when purchasing herbal drug supplements, because you can never be 100% sure of what you are ingesting. Many herbal remedies claiming to have the effects of a prescription drug should be avoided. This particularly applies to any products that promise sexual enhancement, weight loss, and building muscle mass as these types of supplements have often been found to contain hidden ingredients.

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