The Accidental Pharmer

It’s been a while. Two months, to be precise. Life is not always as predictable as one hopes (on the other hand, come to think of it, that’s maybe not such a bad thing – I would never have been doing what I’m doing if life was predictable).

People often wonder how on earth a nice boy like me ended up in alternative health. While completing my Master’s thesis, I began working as a director of a clinical research unit. We did patient studies on a variety of novel medicines and I was pretty cozy with the pharmaceutical industry. Why did I leave? Did something bad happen to disillusion me? Actually not, as it turns out.

In 1996, with failing eyesight, I realised I had to build equity instead of salary to prepare for the inevitable “early retirement”. That was smart. At the same time, I (a mere doctor) thought I knew how to build that equity. That was dumb. Almost by chance, an opportunity arose to cultivate St John’s Wort in South Africa for the European market. I founded a company, got investors and left my job to run the new company. That was super dumb from a financial security angle, but – in hindsight – it was good for my soul.

And so began my weird journey from pharma to pharmer.

I naively thought that farming was about growing crops and then selling them. I quickly learnt (at the cost of closing my first company) that the odds are heavily stacked against the grower. So I began complaining to authorities in the European Union and the British Commonwealth about the injustices they were imposing on farmers in developing countries. An almost admirable streak of activism. My concerns fell on friendly but deaf ears. Unexpectedly, however, people thought I was an expert on medicinal plants, since I was so vocal in my grumblings. The EU and the Commonwealth invited me as a speaker on commercialising medicinal plants in the developing world (sadly without fixing the trade imbalances from their side!).

Nothing turns you into an expert quicker than being mistaken for one. I was fortunate to make friends with really knowledgeable experts in the field of medicinal plants. From them, I learnt most of what I now know. Among them were some sangomas (“traditional healers”), which is a whole chapter unto itself. As I learnt more about the chemistry of plants, I began combining it with my biochemistry knowledge and a whole new insight dawned on me – how to use pharmaceutical principles to build potent plant remedies. I had become a pharmer. These insights have become a core pillar of my professional life ever since.

In 2002, my new company (Integrow Health) took over a medical electronics distributor. Electronics were as far removed from plants as you could imagine, and again I had to learn on the fly. This time, I did not have many experts to consult, but slowly the penny dropped (as happens when you push it long and hard enough). The chemical pathways I knew so well actually ran on electricity. In fact, the chemicals we take as “medicine” are simply carriers of electric charges in specific configurations. And so I built another core pillar: Tiny electrical currents (= “microcurrent”) can assist the body’s own currents to boost health.

Only some 12 years after leaving Big Pharma did I really start questioning the industry. It became more and more clear that, increasingly, scientific research was being used as a sledgehammer to register unsafe products, for the purpose of making insane profits. While I still don’t reject Western medicine outright (a position that makes me a semi-outcast from the bunny-hugger crowd), I’m wary of prescribing allopathic medicine without carefully considering alternatives. In most cases, herbal remedies or microcurrent therapies do a much better job and with no unsafe side effects.

Where has this journey of accidents brought me? I’m still nowhere to being an expert. Knowledge is like a circle – the bigger the circle, the bigger the circumference. The more you know, the more you realise how much more there still is to know. Such awareness of our limitations is a step closer to wisdom – and I’m sure I would not have taken that uncomfortable step, had I remained in my cozy environment.

A full and happy life is not measured in knowledge, but in wisdom. The little bits of wisdom I’ve gained in my 20 year process of becoming a pharmer has lead me to believe in a world that is brimming with goodness, vitality and nourishment in every nook and cranny … if only we would allow it in.

How we got to shut real, wild, messy nature out of our lives is the subject for another post.

Go take a half-hour walk in a green place today. Touch some leaves. Crush them and listen to the sound that makes. Smell the crushed leaves. Meet nature on nature’s terms. That is the best prescription for health I can offer you. Tell your boss it’s on doctor’s orders!


Doc Frank

PS. If you need that prescription in “medicalese” to impress your boss, here it is:
“Ambulare x 30 mins o.d. x 30 days. Repeat endlessly. No generics allowed.”

PPS If you’re interested in health news that is good for you, join my Facebook profile here.