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Harefuah. 2001 Aug;140(8):780-3, 805.

[The safety of herbal medicines in the psychiatric practice].

[Article in Hebrew]

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  • 1Pharmaceutical Service, Sheba Medical Center, Tel-Hashomer, Ramat-Gan.


The use of alternative medicines is increasing world-wide and in Israel. These drugs, considered by the Ministry of Health as food supplements, are to be obtained at pharmacies and health stores and are being sold freely, without any professional advice. Many of the herbs are used by patients to treat psychiatric disorders. These herbs have a pharmacological activity, adverse effects and interactions with conventional drugs, which can produce changes in mood, cognition, and behavior. We present the most commonly used herbal drugs, and discuss their safety and efficacy in psychiatric practice. Hypericum--used as an antidepressant and as an antiviral medicine, was reported in 23 randomized clinical trials reviewed from the MEDLINE. It was found to be significantly more effective than placebo and had a similar level of effectiveness as standard antidepressants. Recent studies almost clearly prove that this herb, like most of the conventional antidepressants, can induce mania. Valerian--is used as an anti-anxiety drug, and reported to have sedative as well as antidepressant properties. In contrast to the significant improvement in sleep that was found with the use of valerian, compared to placebo, there are several reports on the valerian root toxicity. This includes nephrotoxicity, headaches, chest tightness, mydriasis, abdominal pain, and tremor of the hands and feet. Ginseng--another plant that is widely used as an aphrodisiac and a stimulant. It has been associated with the occurrence of vaginal bleeding, mastalgia, mental status changes and Stevens-Johnson syndrome after it's chronic administration. It has interactions with digoxin, phenelzine and warfarin. Ginkgo--in clinical trials the ginkgo extract has shown a significant improvement in symptoms such as memory loss, difficulties in concentration, fatigue, anxiety, and depressed mood. Long-term use has been associated with increased bleeding time and spontaneous hemorrhage. Ginkgo should be used cautiously in patients receiving aspirin, NSAIDs, anticoagulants or other platelet inhibitors. Health care professionals can no longer ignore the widespread use of alternative medicines and cannot continue with the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Clinicians should ask the patients about their use of herbs in a non-judgmental way, and should document the patient's use of these drugs. Finally, we must be more aware of the side effects and the potential drug interactions of these herbs, and advise our patients to avoid long term use of these drugs due to lack of information regarding the safety of these medicines.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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