The Amazon, an important pool of current and future drugs

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Did you know that remedies from the Amazon rainforest have been saving lives for a long time? Science continues to discover very promising plants and animals in medicine.

From deadly poison to simple medicine

For more than a year now, we have to dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. The crisis has undoubtedly allowed many people to now know a little about health issues, vaccines, etc. However, one piece of news may have gone quite unnoticed by most citizens. Indeed, in April 2020 in France, resuscitation services hospitals announced a shortage of “curare”.

Extracted from certain Amazonian lianas, curare is used for centuries as poison by Native Americans. They coat their arrows with it, which they shoot with a blowpipe to hunt. A few moments after being hit, the game is poisoned by muscular paralysis. In the 16th century, the Swiss physician Paracelsus, father of toxicology, rightly believed that this deadly poison could be used as medicine thanks to precise dosage.

Today, curare is frequently used in surgical or intensive care units, preventing the transmission of motor nerve impulses to skeletal muscles. This neuromuscular blockade thus causes muscle relaxation. In the case of acute respiratory distress syndrome (severe form of Covid-19), curare facilitates ventilation in allowing significant relaxation at the level of the chest wall.

Many other remedies

In his work Amazonia: what everyone needs to know (2020), the American ethnobotanist Mark J. Plotkin recalls that curare is not the only drug from the Amazon. Some remedies current, but also to come are from this region. In 2019, Brazilian researchers claimed to have discovered a new natural Viagra, namely a molecule derived from the venom of the banana spider. (Phoneutria nigriventer).

Credit: Pedro Rocha / Flickr

Let us also cite the tree of the species Lechleri ​​croton, producing a sap that is nicknamed “dragon’s blood”. For centuries, Native Americans have used it to treat infections, inflammation and other injuries. For some time now, it has become a question of using it to treat diarrhea and, more surprisingly, HIV. Let us also mention the poison arrow frogs of the family of Dendrobatidae. Many species secrete toxic alkaloids through the skin which serve as a defense against their predators. Researchers have studied these amphibians for a better understanding of anesthesia local and anticonvulsants.

In addition, bats secrete draculin, a substance used to thin the blood of its prey. As for the back of the monkey tree frogs (Phyllomedusa bicolor), this one is covered with kambo. It is a natural opioid forty times more potent than morphine. Finally, the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, namely psilocybin, is currently a prime candidate for treating anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.

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