What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

What is Lobelia?

The herb lobelia was originally used by Native Americans in the New England region. It was subsequently popularized by Samuel Thomson, the founder of an ideosyncratic form of medicine called Thomsonianism. The enduring popularity of lobelia is one of the legacies of this nineteenth century enthusiasm. ( Goldenseal is another herb popularized by Thomson.) The traditional names of the herb capture its traditional uses: wild tobacco, asthma weed, gagroot, and pukeweed. Dried lobelia tastes and smells somewhat like tobacco, and for this reason it was sold as a tobacco substitute. Lobelia was also used to treat asthma and stimulate vomiting.

The Thomsonians additionally claimed that lobelia could relax muscles and nerves. On this basis, they used it for anxiety, epilepsy, kidney...

The major active ingredient of lobelia is a substance called lobeline. It is widely stated that lobeline is chemically similar to nicotine, and on this basis it has been marketed as a stop-smoking treatment . However, this belief appears to be a type of urban legend; lobeline is not in fact chemically similar to nicotine. 1 Interestingly, chemists investigating the lobeline–nicotine myth found that lobeline may diminish certain effects of nicotine in the body, specifically nicotine-induced release of the substance dopamine. Since dopamine is believed to play a significant role in drug addiction, these findings can be taken as hinting that lobeline might be useful for treating drug addiction . Potential benefits have been found for addiction to amphetamines. 2 3 Dopamine...

Safety Issues

It is widely stated that lobelia is a dangerously toxic herb. However, herbalist Paul Bergner undertook a review of published literature and discovered that each author who described lobelia as toxic was merely quoting another author, in a kind of game of telephone going back nearly 200 years. 4 The original published reference upon which this sequence of hearsay reporting appears to have been based is a note in the American New Dispensatoryof 1810, in which an “eminent physician” is quoted as stating that if a person consumes lobelia and doesn’t vomit, death will follow. The ultimate origin of this claim may have been the claims made by the prosecution in a widely publicized trial of Samuel Thomson in which he was accused of committing murder through use of...