Drugs today are obtained from several sources. Some sources of drugs are discussed below. Some drugs are listed under the sources. The specific drugs mentioned are not the only drugs obtained from that source.
a. Plants. For thousands of years, plants have served as sources of drugs. Ephedrine, a drug used to treat nasal congestion, was used by the Chinese long before western man visited the Orient. Belladonna (or Deadly Nightshade), the source of atropine and scopolamine was used in the Middle Ages. Its name means "beautiful woman" in Italian. A solution obtained by soaking the belladonna plant in water caused the pupils of the eye to dilate and appear black. These were symbols of beauty at the time. Belladonna was a favorite poison. Opium, a product obtained from the poppy plant, is mentioned in early Greek mythology as a sleep producer.
b. Animals. Animals provide us with large supplies of natural products like hormones. Insulin, used in the treatment of diabetes mellitus, used to be obtained from the pancreas of pork, beef, and even fish. Heparin, a potent anticoagulant, is obtained from the intestinal and lung mucosa of beef and hogs.
c. Minerals. Minerals, such as iron and iodine, are essential for normal growth and development. An old remedy for pallor (a very pale complexion) was the water used to cool horseshoes in the blacksmith shop. This water contained small amounts of iron in solution.
d. Microorganisms. You are probably aware of the fact that microbes can cause disease and/or death. Fortunately, some microorganisms can be used to produce antibiotics. These antibiotics can be used to kill or stop the growth of other microbes. Furthermore, chemically treated or killed microorganisms can be used to produce vaccines.
e. Synthetics. Most drugs today are synthetically made. Examples of synthetically produced drugs are aspirin and the sulfa drugs.
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