The New Normal of ‘Internet Medicine’ — 3 Truths to Keep in Mind When Researching Herbal Medicine

October 4, 2020

The New Normal of ‘Internet Medicine’ — 3 Truths to Keep in Mind When Researching Herbal Medicine

For so long, humans were dependent on the herbs we could find around our villages.

When it came to knowledge and innovation, we were beholden to local teachers and wisdom passed down from earlier generations.

When it came to knowledge and innovation, we were beholden to local teachers and wisdom passed down from earlier generations.

And now? We can easily access a selection of high-quality herbal products far larger than our local farmer’s market can offer. Thanks to the internet, we can quickly get our hands on herbs from just about every culture and ethnobotanical medical system in the world.

We also have access to seemingly endless online education, scientific research, and teachers waiting for us right inside our screens.

When it comes to accessing information and bringing the earth’s far-flung resources straight to our front door, we’re right in the middle of a golden age.

Here at Floracopeia, we’ve been proudly sharing the world’s finest botanical treasures with our beloved customers for years now — and we’ve seen them improve so many lives.

Within the larger world of natural medicine, though, we’ve also seen the negative outcomes of people applying such powerful healing information out of context — or falling for patently false claims.

The downsides of “internet medicine” (as our founder David Crow calls it).

Sadly, wellness seekers continue to turn to unreliable sources of information, experimenting on themselves, running into unexpected side effects, and more.

From taking too many herbs, to combining tinctures improperly, to applying essential oils directly on the skin… it seems that sometimes, people just don’t know what they don’t know.

We’ve also heard of those who have, for instance, attributed their symptoms to the wrong source. They read faulty information that convinces them their negative inflammatory reactions were part of a detox process — and it’s simply not true. Those were toxic reactions they were experiencing.

We want you to feel equipped and empowered as a consumer (and lifelong student) of botanical medicine — so we’re sharing three truths that will always apply when you’re researching natural solutions online... no matter what the latest trends have to say.

1. “Internet medicine” always has two parts: science and marketing.

Wellness seekers can become understandably confused about what the scientific literature they find online actually says — and how this information is used by companies for marketing purposes.

Too many companies claim their botanical products can treat certain conditions — and even educated readers fall prey to it, because the science DOES seem to support their claims in many cases..

For example, otherwise-true information becomes ethically questionable when it moves into the realm of diagnosis, cure, treatment, or prevention of disease — which is only legal if it's implemented by a licensed medical practitioner.

This becomes even more confusing when you’re recognizing facts you’ve known about botanical medicine for years… you’re just seeing it in an irresponsible context.

For instance, it’s absolutely true that Clary Sage essential oil soothes stressed nerves and emotions. It’s irresponsible to say it will cure YOUR depression.

2. Stay on-guard when dealing with multi-level marketing companies.

You’ve probably heard about MLMs, or multi-level marketing companies. Their controversial marketing strategies involve using a non-salaried workforce to sell their products, with the participants relying on a pyramid-shaped commission system.

Years ago, MLM companies were claiming their essential oils could cure almost everything — including cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, autism, brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, paralysis, and more…

Unsurprisingly, this triggered scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA determines a product’s intended use based on factors such as claims made in the labeling, on websites, and in advertising, as well as what consumers expect it to do. They also look at how a product is marketed, not just a word or phrase taken out of context…

(Please note: The FDA is far from perfect and has indeed approved medications that were later found to be unsafe or ineffective. Ironically, that’s one reason people are desperate for alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs, and why internet medicine is thriving. However, their guidelines are still a reasonable place to start when ruling out false claims you’ll find online.)

It was a huge shock to many well-meaning MLM sales representatives when they were warned by the FDA against spreading dangerous health information. After all, they were only repeating information they’d been told by (what they thought was) a reputable source... their own companies.

Sadly, many consumers fell prey to these false health claims as they formed personal relationships with their MLM sales representatives — who were only telling their customers the truth as they understood it.

Please tread lightly when dealing with the sometimes-fraudulent and potentially dangerous “education” that MLM companies have trained their sales force to spread about natural medicine.

3. When a new epidemic crops up, it’s time to become even more discerning about “internet medicine.”

When a new epidemic starts, or there's a fear of one, the FDA springs into action as the false information spreads.

They’ve issued plenty of warnings to mass-market companies that claimed essential oils could prevent or treat Ebola.

Later, they cracked down on companies making similar claims about the H1N1 virus.

The FDA has also warned natural medicine leaders against stating, for instance, that traditional Chinese herbal formulas have immune boosting powers against viral contagion.

The truth is, the FDA starts by simply typing the epidemic’s name into Google, then noting the companies and healthcare practitioners making claims they can cure or prevent it...

You can certainly do the same!

Over the years,the FDA has also forbidden companies from:

  • Taking findings from a lab test and claiming they apply to people — without first testing the claims on people
  • Making claims about the medical efficacy of any product — unless it’s gone through the (extensive, multimillion-dollar) testing process to become an FDA-approved drug. Since we know you can’t patent an herb or essential oil, it can’t be approved as a drug and you shouldn’t trust medical efficacy claims
  • Publishing information intended to diagnose, cure, or prevent disease
  • Not including adequate label directions that are clear enough for a layperson to use the product as intended

If you run into any of the issues from the list above, proceed with extreme caution when making choices about your health. 

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