Experts urge caution for effects of herbal remedies

By Jake Chung  /  Staff writer, with CNA

Sun, Nov 25, 2012 - Page 3

Aconitine is a toxic substance and should only be taken with great care, Taipei Veteran’s General Hospital toxicology department doctor Wu Ming-ling (吳明玲) said yesterday at a seminar.

The hospital hosted a seminar titled “2012 International Seminar on the Diagnosis and Treatment of Poisoning,” focusing on issues ranging from new toxins and drugs, animal and herbal toxins, toxicity levels of various drugs and how to monitor them.

Speaking on herbal toxicity, Wu said that the hospital has treated 16 cases of Aconitine poisoning within the past five years, of which seven patients had ingested Aconitine for pain relief, three for use in treatment of heart problems, two in treatment for gastrointestinal diseases, one each for liver care and growth, and three for other reasons.

Aconitine is a chemical substance found in the herb monkshood, which is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, Wu said.

He added that it was highly toxic and a mere 0.2 milligrams of the substance ingested orally would be enough to poison a person, while 3 to 5 milligrams would be a lethal dosage.

Referring to the case of a male student using Aconitine to boost growth, Wu said that the student was sent to the hospital after taking the medicine for two days.

He said he felt weak, had an irregular pulse and had fainted, Wu said.

Earlier cases of Aconitine poisoning had been from ingestion of the roots of aconite plants, but recently the main source of aconite poisoning was the branch root of monkshood, Wu said, adding that local practices also commonly use monkshood roots to make medicinal liquor.

Aconitine is a prescribed substance that is covered by the National Health Insurance and should not be bought from unknown sources or via the Internet, Wu said.

Prior consultation with Chinese medicine doctors is recommended, and doctors should also remind buyers of symptoms that could develop after ingesting Aconitine.

According to medical references, monkshood has anesthetic qualities and is used clinically to alleviate pain caused by cancer, Wu said, adding that monkshood can also be used for general pain relief.