Safety: Acupuncture and herbal medicine are very safe in the hands of a trained professional. Despite years of government promises to regulate both acupuncture and herbal medicine, this has not happened. Consequently, it means training can vary wildly. There are people calling themselves acupuncturists who have only had a few months of training where most legitimate schools require at least 3 full time years for an acupuncture degree (LicAc). A Chinese herbal medicine degree is attended for an additional two years after achieving an acupuncture degree. It is a highly intensive, university accredited course which requires incredible dedication to complete and practice. During my studies I participated on an educational committee and argued to increase requirements for herbal courses to increase and potentially add an additional year. On my own initiative, I added a number of additional specialist courses in my final year and after graduation to round out my education to ensure I had the strongest education available. To guarantee thorough training, only choose an acupuncturist who is a member of the British Acupuncture Council and an herbalist from the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine. Both sites have a database where you can check their membership online.
The question of herbal safely comes up frequently and it should. In the hands of the ignorant, herbal medicine can be unsafe. If you balk at that statement, consider mushroom foraging and whether you feel you could trust someone on the internet to sell you mushrooms they picked from their back field. Like mushroom foraging, herbal safety ranges from docile to dangerous. Most herbs used are as safe as the food you buy off the store shelves. However, the more potent herbs must be used in the correct dose to be safe or combined with other herbs to mitigate any toxicity. Don’t let this put you off. Herbal dosages, toxicity, and interactions are methodically tested and incredibly well documented. Also, keep in mind that both cinnamon and nutmeg are extremely toxic in large dosages. In the correct dosages they are both very beneficial to your health. But, please do not buy herbs from anyone but a qualified RCHM herbalist. The best case scenario is that you will just waste your money. The worst case scenario is that you could put yourself at serious risk.
A part of safety is also choosing a reliable supplier. I use only RCHM Herbal Suppliers which means the suppliers have passed a rigorous inspection based on the standards required of any pharmaceutical product.
Ethics: As an animal lover I take this issue very seriously and think the use of protected species (both plant and animal) is a despicable crime. For people concerned about the use of endangered species in Chinese herbal medicine I can assure you that I have never come across any herbalist who uses endangered species. It would be a very dodgy person to illicit such an activity- the equivalent of a GP selling street drugs. In fact, it would be worse for an herbalist because they would have to enter an incredibly expensive black market. If you have ever read articles on rhino horn, journalists refrain from mentioning the monetary value to prevent creating new interest from poachers. Consequently, any herbalist who used such substances would have to pass the cost on, and the cost of the herbs would be exorbitant. I should also mention that rhino horn is no longer listed in Chinese medicine books and is easily replaced with other herbs. It’s just not necessary.
Chinese herbal medicine traditionally uses plants, animals, and minerals as herbs. However, the UK Medicines Act of 1968 defines ‘herb’ as only a plant. The Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine, of which I am a member, requires members to obey this law and I strictly adhere to this law and my membership guidelines. My insurance requires it and the herbal company I dispense through does not supply animal or mineral products. All of the ingredients are listed on herbal prescriptions so you can assured that you are only receiving legal plant materials.