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Principles On Use of Indigenous Medicine


A group of practitioners, activists, scholars, lawyers and human rights defenders has come together and proposed a set of ethical guidelines that they say can guide Western psychedelic research and practice on traditional indigenous medicines.


GS II- Health

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Ethical principles to address indigenous concerns:
  2. Use of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes
  3. What are the concerns
  4. Frameworks that mention indigenous rights to the use and development of their traditional medicines and related practices
  5. What is traditional medicine?
  6. Way Forward

Ethical principles to address indigenous concerns:

  • The proposal claim that these set of guidelines can address increasing concerns among many indigenous nations regarding the cultural appropriation of their traditional medicines.
  • The eight ethical Principles:
  • Reverence,
  • Respect,
  • Responsibility,
  • Relevance,  
  • Regulation,
  • Reparation,
  • Restoration, and
  • Reconciliation.
  • These were categorised within four overarching categories:
    • Acknowledgement    
    • Knowledge-Translation and Education        
    • Intellectual Property 
    • Belonging
  • Therapies based on indigenous wisdom reorient attitudes towards better relationships with human, other-than-human, and Mother Earth.

Use of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes:

  • The proposed guidelines come even as the use of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes is on the rise.
  • An increasing number of cities and states in the US have also legalised their use.
  • The economic profits alone of the psychedelic industry is expected to grow to 6.85 billion by 2027.

What are the concerns:

  • The paper noted that the economic profits hardly accrue to the communities and regions from where these indigenous medicines originate, despite their rising popularity.
  • The Western psychedelic practitioners and facilitators earn better when compared to the, indigenous medicine practitioners.
  • Western psychedelic research and psychedelic tourism is also leading to excessive extraction of ingredients used in traditional medicines. Indigenous traditions are not properly acknowledged in medicines, rituals, ceremonial use.
  • Another concern is that the Indigenous medicine was not widely protected by law.

Frameworks that mention indigenous rights to the use and development of their traditional medicines and related practices:

  • One of the important regulation is included in the Article 8 (j), Article 16 and Annex 1 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as well as the Articles 7 and 12 of the CBD’s Nagoya protocol on Access and benefit-sharing (ABS).
  • As of 2022, only the constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador include regulation specific to Indigenous traditional medicine.
  • On December 19, 2022, delegates at the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).
    • The framework has 23 targets that the world needs to achieve by 2030.
    • This is one of the significant step to bring in real progress  to halt biodiversity loss and protect and restore the lands and seas in a way that safeguards the  planet and respects the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

What is traditional medicine?

  • The WHO describes traditional medicine as the total sum of the “knowledge, skills and practices indigenous and different cultures have used over time to maintain health and prevent, diagnose and treat physical and mental illness”.
  • “Its reach encompasses ancient practices such as acupuncture, ayurvedic medicine and herbal mixtures as well as modern medicines,”
  • Traditional medicine in India is often defined as including practices and therapies — such as yoga, Ayurveda, Siddha — that have been part of Indian tradition historically, as well as others — such as homeopathy — that became part of Indian tradition over the years.
  • Ayurveda and yoga are practised widely across the country; the Siddha system is followed predominantly in Tamil Nadu and Kerala; the Sowa-Rigpa system is practised mainly in Leh-Ladakh and Himalayan regions such as Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Darjeeling, Lahaul & Spiti.
  • The traditional Indian system of medicine comprises of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (AYUSH), is a perennially neglected alternative medicine sector.
  • Ayurveda:
    • The word Ayurveda means ‘Science of Life’ and employs treatment modalities, such as purification, palliation, prescription of various diets, exercises and the avoidance of disease causing factors and it evolved nearly 5000 years ago.
    • The Ayurvedic medicine, though practiced for a wide range of health needs, is more commonly used for preventive and health and immunity boosting activities.
  • Yoga & Naturopathy:
    • Practices of Yoga are reported to have originated in India and is now being adapted to correct lifestyle by cultivating a rational, positive and spiritual attitude towards all life situations.
    •  21st June is designated as ‘International Yoga Day’.
    • Naturopathy or the naturopathic medicine is a drugless’ non- invasive system of medicine imparting treatments with natural elements based on the theories of vitality, toxemia and the self-healing capacity of the body, as well as the principles of healthy living.
    • The common naturopathy modalities include counselling, diet and fasting therapy, mud therapy, hydrotherapy, massage therapy, acupressure, acupuncture, magnet therapy and yoga therapy.
  • Unani Medicine:
    • It was originated in the Arab world, though over a period of time it imbibed some concepts from other contemporary systems of medicines in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Persia, India, China and other Middle East Countries.
    • Unani medicine treats a patient with diet, pharmacotherapy, exercise, massages and surgery.
  • Siddha:
    • Originated in India and is amongst the oldest systems of medicine in the country.
    • It takes into account the patient, his/her surroundings, age, sex, race, habitat, diet, appetite, physical condition etc. to arrive at the diagnosis.
    • Siddha System uses minerals, metals and alloys and drugs and inorganic compounds to treat the patients.
    • Unlike most T&CM, this system is largely therapeutic in nature.
    • Siddha literature is in Tamil and it is practiced largely in Tamil speaking part of India.
  • Homeopathy:
    • The word ‘Homeopathy’ is derived from the Greek words, ‘Homois’ meaning ‘similar’ and ‘pathos’ means ‘suffering’.
    • It originated in Germany and was introduced in India around 1810-1839.
    • It uses highly individualized remedies selected to address specific symptoms or symptom profiles.
    • It is practiced in many countries and in India, where it is the second most popular system of medicine.
  • Sowa-Rigpa:
    • The word combination means the ‘science of healing’ and is considered one of the oldest living and well-documented medical traditions of the world.
    • It originated from Tibet and is widely practiced in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia and Russia.

Way Forward:

  • Indigenous Peoples should give their free, prior and informed consent on the use of their medicines and practices. Benefits from any use must be shared with such communities.
  • Institutions and organisations using psychedelics for research and/or therapies must provide ‘reparation’ in the form of promotion and safeguarding of indigenous self-determination.
  • Responsibilities must be fixed while making use of traditional benefits, benefitting from it or the harms that were being caused due to it.
  • Indigenous voices to be made a part of deliberations on psychedelic science, therapies, training, product development, etc.

-Source: Down to Earth

December 2023