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Analgesic and Anesthetic Plants

Pain is a basic sensory, emotional, and cognitive phenomenon that signals some type of harm to the organism. It is practically universal to human experience, and although it is initially adaptive, it frequently outlives its usefulness and impedes one's ability to function. Accordingly, plants that alleviate pain have become essential to human civilization.

The plant drugs discussed here for their analgesic and anesthetic effects are diverse in form as well as pharmacology, reflecting the diverse neurochemistry of the sensory and analgesic branches of the nervous system. They are grouped here by their pharmacological mechanism, including: opioid (poppy, myrrh), cholinergic (tobacco, lobelia, areca), eicosanoid (willow, feverfew), neurokinin (chili, ginger), purinergic (coffee, tea, chocolate, guarana, maté, kola), cannabinoid, monoamine (coca, khat), and uncertain mechanisms (ginseng). Plants discussed here for their local anesthetic effects are coca and clove. Definition of Terms

Whereas pain is used to refer to the total subjective phenomena associated with injury and suffering, nociception more specifically refers to the aspect of sensory transmission. Nociception is the more correct term for the experimental study of pain, because it is objectively measured through a behavior in animals and humans alike (e.g., withdrawal reflexes, verbal ratings). The actual subjective experiences are private and known to each subject alone. However, for the sake of convenience, the word pain will be used here to address both aspects. Similarly, the word analgesia, meaning the relief from pain, will be used in place of the more objective term antinociception.

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