CSPH 5401 - People, Plants, and Drugs: Introduction to Ethnopharmacology

Course Description

Ethnopharmacology can be defined as "The interdisciplinary scientific investigation of biologically active substances utilized by humans." As such, ethnopharmacology combines aspects of botany, natural products chemistry, conventional pharmacology, pharmacognosy, anthropology, medicine, and even psychology and the comparative study of religions into a synthetic discipline whose subject matter is human interactions with biologically active plants and animals as medicines, poisons, and "recreational" or ritual intoxicants. Although theoretically ethnnopharmacology could include human uses of drugs and toxins in contemporary, post­industrial societies, in practice its primary focus is on indigenous and non­Western cultures. Part of the scope of ethnopharmacology is the documentation of the plants and animals used as drugs and poisons in such cultures, and the ethnographic description of their preparation and use.

Another important component of the study of ethnopharmacology, however, is the application of state­of­the­art scientific methods, borrowed from taxonomy, natural products chemistry, and conventional pharmacology, to identify, isolate, and characterize the active compounds responsible for the actions of drugs and poisons used in non­Western cultures. It is this aspect of ethnopharmacology that has led time and again to the discovery of important medicines that subsequently became integrated into the modern medicinal pharmacopoeia. This course will cover both the ethnographic and scientific aspects of ethnopharmacology about equally. Emphasis will be placed on helping students to appreciate the importance of ethnopharmacological investigations in the process of drug discovery and the evolution of modern medicine, and to develop a cross­cultural perspective on human interactions with drugs and toxins. Drug use and abuse is as old as the human condition, and different cultures have evolved different ways of using the drugs and toxins in their natural environment in both abusive and constructive ways. This course will examine the varieties of ways that humans interact with biologically active organisms in their environment.

Course Objectives

  • At the conclusion of the course the student will be able to:
  • Define ethnopharmacology, and demonstrate a broad familiarity with the scope of the subject area covered by ethnopharmacology.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the principles and practices utilized in ethnopharmacological research.
  • Have an appreciation of the molecular and species diversity inherent in nature, its relevance to humanity’s well being, and the importance of its preservation.
  • Have an appreciation of contemporary issues, diverse perspectives, and ethical, commercial, and legal dilemmas related to issues pertaining to the ownership of indigenous knowledge, intellectual property, regulation of organisms, biopiracy, and genetic resources.
  • Understand the role and importance of botanical medicines in the public health programs and medical practices of developing countries and indigenous cultures.
  • Demonstrate an appreciation of the contributions of ethnopharmacology to Western medicine and sciences such as pharmacology and chemistry.
  • Be acquainted with the literature, databases, and other informational resources pertinent to the study and practice of ethnopharmacology.
  • Be familiar with the diverse uses of psychoactive plants in traditional and indigenous cultures, and demonstrate an understanding of cross­cultural perspectives pertinent to the use and misuse of psychoactive plants.

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Course Details and Registration

Course Details

Course Format: 
Course ID: 
CSPH 5401
Jr or sr or grad student or instr consent
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Lisa Philander