The Confrontation between Ethnopharmacology and Pharmacological Tests of Medicinal Plants Associated with Mental and Neurological Disorders
Giovanna Felipe Cavalcante e Costa, Hisao Nishijo, Leonardo Ferreira Caixeta, and Tales Alexandre Aversi-Ferreira
Hindawi – Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Volume 2018, Article ID 7686913, 27 pages
Doi : 10.1155/2018/7686913
For neurological disorders, pharmacological tests have shown promising results in the reduction of side effects when using plants with known therapeutic effects in the treatment of some types of dementia. Therefore, the goals of this study are to gather data about the major medicinal plants used in the nervous system as described in ethnopharmacological surveys from South America and Brazil and to compare this data with the results from pharmacological tests on the active principles of those same plants found in the scientific literature. After collecting the data about each plant, their respective popular indication was compared with the results found through pharmacological tests. The discrepancy rate between the effects observed by ethnopharmacological and pharmacological methods in this study is greater than 50%. In conclusion, despite the importance of ethnopharmacological data, it is important to make comparisons with pharmacological tests for the same plants, since the pharmacological studies, although few, have shown a high rate of discrepancy in the results.
The knowledge of medicinal plants for therapeutic purposes originated from indigenous tribal cultures [1–4] or ancient civilizations such as those once found in Iran, India, or China [1–3, 5–7] and was passed from generation to generation mostly by means of oral tradition. Presently, knowledge is commonly limited to a village and rural areas or by families isolated from urban centers . Most likely, original information of plants used for therapeutic purpose underwent modifications through time. This was due to their discovery by trial and error over many generations and the oral transmission of information rather than through writing.
A previous study associated culturally propagated therapeutic effects of different medicinal plants obtained by ethnopharmacological/ ethnobotanical means with those found in laboratory tests, showing approximately 66% discrepancy in the results . Trading and distribution mistakes , similarity of plant names for different species , presence of impurities during preparation fromother plants, insects, and mushrooms , and unexpected reactions and interactions with the active compounds  are all examples of commonly encountered problems in the therapeutic use of medicinal plants.
It is not suggested that the medicinal use of plants should be banned, decreased, or hampered. However, there is a need for each procedure to be evaluated by government agencies, institutions, and specialists who understand the therapeutic use of biodiversity in societies with an increasing interest in alternative treatments [6, 14, 15] or in populations with limited or no access to other types of therapeutic resources. Medicinal plant-based therapy may offer benefits, individuals in caring for their own health , reduced or nonexistent costs, and easy access for social groups located in inaccessible areas or away from urban centers and for people in poor urban areas with limited or no access to a healthcare system [6, 14, 15, 19, 20]. Indeed, those groups rely on alternative therapeutic methods for their health care, especially those derived fromlocalmedicinal plants, which is a major issue in countries with higher income gaps.
Many ethnopharmacological surveys were performed in countries and regions representing the greatest biodiversity to identify plants used, with the aim of preserving the cultural heritage of the plant therapy [1–3, 5–7, 21, 22] and acquiring new active compounds for the pharmaceutical industry . Brazil presents the largest biodiversity on the planet  and has a large amount of unexplored resources available for ethnopharmacological and herbal studies given that only 16% of Brazil’s medicinal plants or just 8% of Brazilian national flora  has been evaluated for therapeutic potential . This country represents around 47% of all territories of the South American continent.
Countries in South America present important data about medicinal plants, because of their specific locations in the Andean region, close/into the Amazon Forest  or the pampas. Indeed, the use of some medicinal plants was first found in the population in the Andes Ridge, in the pampas, Patagonia , or Brazilian’s savanna (cerrado) . Probably because of the large population or size, most of the studies in South America are found in Brazil, while ethnopharmacological studies are incipient in other countries
in this continent [8, 10].
However, quality or reliability of medicinal plant effects cannot be ensured if ethnobotanical studies do not provide laboratory verification of the effects when prescribing compounds derived from those medicinal plants. Healthcare professionals and patients should note that studies about the correspondence or discrepancy between ethnopharmacological knowledge and laboratory tests for the same plant are lacking  and must be done for each class of drug.
There is a growing evidence from in vitro, animal, and clinical studies reporting that medicinal plants might be beneficial for treating various mental and neurological disorders including Alzheimer disease, depression, anxiety, and insomnia [363–366]. For neurological disorders, in particular, pharmacological tests have shown promising results in the reduction of side effects when using plants with known therapeutic effects in the treatment of some types of dementia [18, 22, 367–372]. Medicinal plants have been sought as an alternative therapy [18, 373–375] owing to the inefficacy of some industrial medications on certain diseases, such as degenerative ones. Examples are the use of Melissa officinalis,
Salvia officinalis, Ginkgo biloba, and Huperzia serrata for treating the symptoms of Alzheimer disease [18, 373–375].
The problem is that, especially in developing and/or populated countries, people rely on medicinal plants as primary healthcare . The situation is true for mental and neurological disorders. Patient complaints associated directly or indirectly with neurological or neuropsychiatric disorders, such as headache, insomnia, amnesia, anxiety, or depression, are very common [146, 298, 377, 378], and the use of medicinal plants for these purposes is very frequent in populated countries such as Brazil, India, andChina [1–3, 5– 7, 22] but without support of adequate pharmacological tests.
Considering the errors in the use and sale of alternative medicines as a whole, we hypothesize that the same errors could happen with plants that act directly on the nervous system. Therefore, the goal of this study is to gather data about the major medicinal plants used in the neural system, as described in ethnopharmacological surveys from South America like in Brazil and compare this data with the results
from pharmacological tests on the active principles of those same plants found in the scientific literature. Specifically, this study intends to present reliable data for the use of medicinal plants in primary healthcare and assisting conventional treatments of neurological disorders.