9

votes

What can we learn from hunter gatherer medicinal practices?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created December 06, 2010 at 9:22 PM

Hunter-gatherers didn't have our diseases of comfort (I prefer the term above diseases of civilisation). But they did have medical problems. Mostly of the kind where our modern doctors are good at (trauma, infections, ...).

Although I've read quite a lot of anthropological literature, I'm not at all a specialist, but it seems that among all hunter-gatherer societies, there was some kind of doctor. Call it a whitch-doctor, a shaman, a medicine man, ...

The fact that it seems to be universal, probably means that shamanistic practices work, at least for some problems. It would also imply that we are susceptible for these treatments.

Hunter-gatherers have great knowledge of medicinal properties of plants. That probably explains some of the treatment effects.

On the other hand, there was most probably a major contribution from the more psychological effects of the treatment. Modern terms we would apply: psychosomatic, placebo, hypnosis, ...

Do the latter effects have consequences for us? Is our firm 'believe' in our 'diet' possible for a placebo response. Do you think that this could have any other implications for us?

Let me know what you think...

Thanks

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on February 12, 2011
at 08:50 PM

There are plants that heal, the problem is most of them are illegal to consume or purchase. Healing "plants" and "chemicals": Amanita Muscaria, mushrooms, LSD, peyote, Salvia Divinorum ect Some of these "magical plants" have been used by humans since paleo times or still used today by shamans to heal. Some are said to not only mentally heal someone, but also physically. I've met an elder man that claimed Amanita Muscaria cured his crippling arthritis. The curing happened, he said, during the "experience".

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on February 12, 2011
at 06:19 PM

Actually there are plants that heal, the problem is most of them are illegal to consume or own. That's culture for you though, we have the tendency to think the substances we use are okay but then demonize the ones used by other cultures. Examples of healing "plants" and "chemicals" that are demonized by society because they are misunderstood: Amanita Muscaria mushrooms, Psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum ect.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on February 12, 2011
at 06:02 PM

I'd also like to add that there are "entheogens" such as Amanita Muscaria that can actually physically heal as well. People have cured athritis and gained lost eyesight back with the use of Amanita Muscaria.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on February 12, 2011
at 06:00 PM

Shamans and modern day doctors are different!

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on February 12, 2011
at 06:00 PM

Modern day doctors and shamans are not the same IMO. Doctors use synthetic drugs and diagnose based on what they learned in school. Shamans enter into altered states of consciousness with psychedelics and use chanting/drums\contacting of spirits to heal other people who are also in the altered state of consciousness. Shamans use psychoactive plants/mushrooms and chanting/drums to enter people into altered states of conciousness where healing can take place.

5841391284e7af8c495c54bd90d3a795

(2764)

on December 07, 2010
at 04:21 PM

Thanks for the book suggestion, Pieter. I wouldn't say *fooled* so much as just being part of the process of discernment: Trial(s) and error(s) - lots of both!

F910318b9aa27b91bcf7881f39b9eabe

(1164)

on December 07, 2010
at 03:29 PM

We learn that nature can cure us, free of charge and with no side effects ;) sorry, had to say it

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on December 07, 2010
at 02:29 PM

Good point. Shamanistic medicine and religion might also have been the "gold standard" evidence wise at the time. It's easy to criticize in hindsight, but the comparisons were different back then. It was herbal medicine and blood letting vs nothing, not versus a plethora of prescription drugs.

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on December 07, 2010
at 08:46 AM

@Scott, I don't know if you have read the book 'Make prayers to the raven' from RK Nelson. The Alaskan Koyukon are a really good example of what you say. I couldn't help thinking what Nassim Taleb would think about this. A lot of it indeed is being fooled by randomness

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on December 07, 2010
at 08:02 AM

@ Kamal, shamanistic medicine and religion are often linked in evolutionary psychology/anthropology. And although I understand that from a logical point of view, the quote is flawed, it really does not have to be flawed from an evolutionary point of view. Shamanistic medicine and religion could (notice the could) have darwinian fitness advantages. And again, notice that I didn't ask about trauma, infection and other major diseases. btw, this is an atheist talking...

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on December 07, 2010
at 07:53 AM

@ Patrick, yeah, that's what I was also thinking about and what my question is for.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on December 07, 2010
at 06:34 AM

You had a previous life? Did the shaman tell you that?

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on December 07, 2010
at 06:33 AM

That's funny, because I just popped a turmeric pill for inflammation. I often wonder though if the inflammation game is so simple. Turmeric is about as powerful as medium level NSAIDs, and people probably never took capsules daily for long periods of time. It seems like the two reliable things that you can consume large daily quantities of without any adverse effects are meat and water.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on December 07, 2010
at 06:01 AM

You forgot one: turmeric and inflammation.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on December 07, 2010
at 04:46 AM

She's not really down to talk about it. While visiting her school, I got the impression that it's not an environment that favors incisive questioning. Imagine a paleohack asking about the biological mechanism behind homeopathy...there wouldn't be much to learn. Diluting something down until there are no molecules of it left? At that point it is converted to a 100% placebo solution.

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on December 07, 2010
at 04:40 AM

How does your sister feel about your opinion of her profession?

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on December 07, 2010
at 03:40 AM

Ironically, I consider paleo more comfortable and easier than my previous life. I eat foods that taste great and I eat as much as I please! I sleep great too and have tons more energy. Very luxurious if you ask me!

1759614d2ac38131d8004c50da2d9899

(10)

on December 06, 2010
at 10:46 PM

No its 87.43% ;)

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on December 06, 2010
at 10:26 PM

FWIW -- shamans are still around today -- we just call them doctors.

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7 Answers

5
5841391284e7af8c495c54bd90d3a795

(2764)

on December 07, 2010
at 08:14 AM

Humans are pattern-finders. I believe that over our paleo- and neo-lithic history it's been a positive trait overall. The patterns we find are sometimes - often? - coincidence. Our reasoning about why the pattern exists and works - or seems to work - may be right or wrong; close to the mark or way off base. Nevertheless, we refine, refine, refine, winnow out the superstition and reinforce the reliably successful practices.

When we made the jump (actually, we are still making the jump) from the Success Method (repeat what seems to work) to the Scientific Method we've been able to winnow and refine more reliably.

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on December 07, 2010
at 08:46 AM

@Scott, I don't know if you have read the book 'Make prayers to the raven' from RK Nelson. The Alaskan Koyukon are a really good example of what you say. I couldn't help thinking what Nassim Taleb would think about this. A lot of it indeed is being fooled by randomness

5841391284e7af8c495c54bd90d3a795

(2764)

on December 07, 2010
at 04:21 PM

Thanks for the book suggestion, Pieter. I wouldn't say *fooled* so much as just being part of the process of discernment: Trial(s) and error(s) - lots of both!

4
21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on December 06, 2010
at 09:56 PM

"The fact that it seems to be universal, probably means that shamanistic practices work"

Oh boy, this logical error is too juicy to pass up! Religion is universal, yet healing prayer has been repeatedly shown to not work. My sister is a naturopathic doctor out in Seattle, and after some research, I've concluded it is 87% bullshit. Plants do not exist to heal us, and 99% of them did not co-evolve with us in a symbiotic fashion. In fact, some want to hurt us!!!

The most effective part of natural (shamanistic?) medicine is the eating healthier part! Next up is the positive thinking part, followed closely by avoiding side effects from allopathic medicine part.

That being said, there are more and more trials being done on alternative and complementary medicine, funded by the federal government (NCCAM). Certain herbs do have pharmaceutical-type effects, but there are no panaceas that I'm aware of yet. Some things that I've partaken in that have limited effects are saw palmetto (prostate), acupuncture (pain), meditation (pain), biofeedback (pain), and valerian root (sleep). One thing to keep in mind is that older trials often lack experimental rigor, and should be interpreted with caution.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on December 07, 2010
at 06:33 AM

That's funny, because I just popped a turmeric pill for inflammation. I often wonder though if the inflammation game is so simple. Turmeric is about as powerful as medium level NSAIDs, and people probably never took capsules daily for long periods of time. It seems like the two reliable things that you can consume large daily quantities of without any adverse effects are meat and water.

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on December 07, 2010
at 04:40 AM

How does your sister feel about your opinion of her profession?

1759614d2ac38131d8004c50da2d9899

(10)

on December 06, 2010
at 10:46 PM

No its 87.43% ;)

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on December 07, 2010
at 08:02 AM

@ Kamal, shamanistic medicine and religion are often linked in evolutionary psychology/anthropology. And although I understand that from a logical point of view, the quote is flawed, it really does not have to be flawed from an evolutionary point of view. Shamanistic medicine and religion could (notice the could) have darwinian fitness advantages. And again, notice that I didn't ask about trauma, infection and other major diseases. btw, this is an atheist talking...

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on December 07, 2010
at 02:29 PM

Good point. Shamanistic medicine and religion might also have been the "gold standard" evidence wise at the time. It's easy to criticize in hindsight, but the comparisons were different back then. It was herbal medicine and blood letting vs nothing, not versus a plethora of prescription drugs.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on December 07, 2010
at 06:01 AM

You forgot one: turmeric and inflammation.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on December 07, 2010
at 04:46 AM

She's not really down to talk about it. While visiting her school, I got the impression that it's not an environment that favors incisive questioning. Imagine a paleohack asking about the biological mechanism behind homeopathy...there wouldn't be much to learn. Diluting something down until there are no molecules of it left? At that point it is converted to a 100% placebo solution.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on February 12, 2011
at 08:50 PM

There are plants that heal, the problem is most of them are illegal to consume or purchase. Healing "plants" and "chemicals": Amanita Muscaria, mushrooms, LSD, peyote, Salvia Divinorum ect Some of these "magical plants" have been used by humans since paleo times or still used today by shamans to heal. Some are said to not only mentally heal someone, but also physically. I've met an elder man that claimed Amanita Muscaria cured his crippling arthritis. The curing happened, he said, during the "experience".

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on February 12, 2011
at 06:19 PM

Actually there are plants that heal, the problem is most of them are illegal to consume or own. That's culture for you though, we have the tendency to think the substances we use are okay but then demonize the ones used by other cultures. Examples of healing "plants" and "chemicals" that are demonized by society because they are misunderstood: Amanita Muscaria mushrooms, Psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum ect.

2
62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on December 07, 2010
at 03:37 AM

I have tried other diets which I believed in. THe most obvious is the 'eat less food diet' promulgated by the mainstream 'experts' of the world. I believed in that diet so much that I tried it over and over again for most of my life. And for many years I worked very hard to follow the 'eat more fiber and less fat diet.' The one thing all these diets have in common is they all made me feel hungry and weak and obsessed with food all day long. This may sound silly, but when I tried low carb/atkins and after about 7 days, when the hunger to overeat that I had experienced for MY ENTIRE LIFE was 'magically' gone, it was a huge epiphany. At that point, I had no clue of the biology behind it, but I knew this lowcarb thing was something totally different from everything else. It was also the first time in my life when I did not have to fight hunger every single day. The ironic part was that I was actually rather skeptical when I first started the lowcarb diet. It just didn't seem possible that I could lose weight while eating as much as I pleased. But it worked! Of course, I now realize it works at least because you no longer desire to eat so much. You will still be eating less but the trick is, you will eat less because you want to eat less, not because you are forcing yourself to eat less.

So believe me when I say, I am quite positive that the lowcarb effect is not just placebo effect. As for paleo, I guess the paleo 'upgrade' from lowcarb could concievably be written off as placebo. Certainly, I did not feel as huge a change from lowcarb to paleo as there was from SAD to lowcarb, but a lot of that could be because even when only eating lowcarb, my favorite foods were always lots of steak and butter. I was not a huge PUFA eater and lowcarb Atkins types really have not, IME, had any major issues with saturated fat. Whole natural foods, meat, and bacon are IME, already favored greatly in the Atkins community. So really, it was not a huge switch for me to go from lowcarb to paleo. In fact, it seemed the most natural obvious logical next step.

2
Ce0b5fd94b1034e96cf710b6f138c29d

on December 06, 2010
at 10:13 PM

Given typical HG infant mortality rates, that we're better off consulting paediatricians?

That being said, I think that there's probably all sorts of fascinating work to be done in terms of cross-cultural studies of shamanism.

1
89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on February 12, 2011
at 12:16 PM

from a review of: "Michael Winkelman, Shamanism: A biosocial paradigm of consciousness and healing." that appeared in the journal Evolutionary Psychology:

[...] despite its prehistoric origins, shamanic consciousness holds great relevance for dealing with modern-day psychosocial problems. In the chapter on ???Shamanistic Therapies???, he reviews how the various aspects of shamanism???the social rituals, mystical experiences created by psychedelic drugs and other parasympathetic means, and invocation of spirits???all contribute to its healing effectiveness. To varying extents, the therapeutic benefits of shamanic rituals are tied to its ???psycholytic??? (mind-dissolving) aspects, associated with the universal shamanistic theme of ???death-and-rebirth.

1
D5cde8031564f905260ce9aa7a1f5e2c

on December 07, 2010
at 02:37 PM

One area in which shamanistic practice has actual, measured benefits that are only now being explored by science is the use of entheogenic plants (or synthetic versions) for treating psychological disorders - depression and addiction, primarily.

A recent pilot study of terminal cancer patients found that a single dose of psilocybin - the active substance in "magic mushrooms" - wrought numerous subjective benefits: reduced depression and anxiety, reduced need for pain medication, improved "acceptance" of death.

Ibogaine (a plant used in some Central West African groups as a traditional medicine) is effective at reducing amphetamine, opiate, alcohol and cocaine cravings in addicts, and it actually can reduce or prevent relapse after treatment.

Similar work is underway with ayahuasca, the Amazonian vine brew, but nothing concrete - just pubmed stuff about the neural effects of administration, the safety (it's physically safe), and lots of positive anecdotes.

This stuff has to be approached with caution and treated with respect, but there's definite clinical potential.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on February 12, 2011
at 06:02 PM

I'd also like to add that there are "entheogens" such as Amanita Muscaria that can actually physically heal as well. People have cured athritis and gained lost eyesight back with the use of Amanita Muscaria.

0
82166cc32b6cf26de33b69f58fb583b1

on February 12, 2011
at 03:22 PM

There's a branch of modern science that studies medicines used by traditional cultures. These scientists analyze and test old drugs to figure out whether they really work.

Some modern prescription drugs were discovered this way. This branch of science is called ethnopharmacology and its has its own journals. For example:

Journal of Ethnopharmacology

If you google "ethnopharmacology" you can track down dozens or hundreds of modern drugs that derive from traditional ones. Vincristinem, reserpine, and Artemisinin are examples.

I'll give one example of a paleo drug that is in this category. Until recently it was widely used in hospitals, but in the last few years it has been replaced by better drugs.

It's a drug that everyone here has probably heard of, curare. It was discovered by South American hunter gatherers. They used it as poison on their arrows. In 1596 a European explorer mentioned it for the first time in a book; in 1780 a European scientist studied it for the first time; in 1850 an English doctor discovered that it was a good treatment for tetanus.

In 1870, Burroughs Wellcome (a pharmaceutical company which is now part of GlaxoSmithKline) began selling curare tablets. The hunter-gatherers' arrow poison had become something Europeans bought in a drugstore.

In 1935 a scientist isolated the active component, d-tubocurarine. Starting in the early 1940s, it was routinely used by anesthesiologists to paralyze patients during surgery. Recently it has been replaced by better drugs.

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