Materia medica, Nature Products and Synthetic Pharmaceuticals
In the past all medicines were products of nature, that is, a whole plant, parts of a plant, or extracts from a plant. The Latin term for the science of these products was Materia medica. Linnaeus’ system for classifying plants and his studies of the use of nature products for medicinal purposes, medicinal plants, contributed to our knowledge of the subject. However, humans had used plants and animal products as medicines long before Linnaeus. Opium, ginseng, and rhubarb are said to have been used 5,000 years ago. In modern times, many medicines are synthetic products. Often the active substance is isolated from a nature product. Linnaeus did not have access to the knowledge of analytical chemistry that we have today. His contribution was to describe the medicinal properties of plants. The connections between effect, cause of disease, and the chemically active compound (structure and activity studies) are the result of more recent research.
In this connection a distinction should be made between what we call natural pharmaceuticals and nature products. Natural pharmaceuticals are medicines whose constituent parts are made up of a plant or animal part, bacteria culture, mineral salt, or salt solution. These products are regulated (Medical Products Agency) regarding their quality, effect, and safety. Nature products are not subjected to the control prescribed for natural pharmaceuticals, but they must be approved by the Medical Products Agency. Natural concoctions with medicinal claims that are not natural pharmaceuticals or nature products are illegal. It is sometimes difficult to know where to draw the line between natural pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements.