Herbal Medicine Will not be a Recognized Medical Specialty

For over a year now, I have been covering the petition from the American College of Veterinary Botanical Medicine (ACVBM) seeking recognition as a medical specialty from the American Board of Veterinary Specialties (ABVS). I have argued that the discipline does not yet have adequate scientific evidence to support this status and that the ACVBM is dominated by proponents of Traditional Chinese Medicine and other pseudoscientific folk practices and cannot be trusted to take a truly scientific approach to herbal medicine when the leadership ignores or rejects scientific methods and relies primarily on tradition and personal belief in their own herbal prescribing.

The ABVS has apparently rejected the ACVBM petition, though the only indication of this comes from a brief statement on the ACVBM website:

Unfortunately [the ABVS] rejected our petition to be a stand alone college as we are a relatively new entity to them, but did open the door for us to apply under a currently existing college, specifically the College of Clinical Pharmacology.  At the ACVIM in June, representatives of the ACVBM will be meeting with representatives of the College of Clinical Pharmacology to discuss what being under their ‘wing’ will entail.

I have asked the ABVS if they intend to make their decision or the outcome of their review of the ACVBM petition public in any form, but they have not yet responded.

A subspecialty status under the American College of Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology (ACVCP) has some advantages over an independent specialty status in that the ACVCP is a soundly scientific organization and would, hopefully, hold herbalists to a higher, more scientific standard of evidence than they would require of themselves. It is still problematic, however, in that it creates the impression of scientific legitimacy for herbal prescribing practices before they have done the work of validating specific treatments for specific conditions or even demonstrated the validity of most basic theoretical principles underlying the discipline.

The inclusion of unproven or clearly ineffective methods under the auspices of otherwise legitimate specialty areas is not unusual. The American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation (ACVSMR), for example, includes chiropractic, acupuncture, herbal medicine and even the quintessential quackery of homeopathy as 3-6% of the content of the examination for board-certification under the Trojan Horse label of “Integrative Medicine.” I’ve discussed many times before how such a concept is a dangerous opening for unproven and useless therapies to weasel their way into mainstream medicine without going through the process of demonstrating true safety and efficacy via legitimate scientific methods. It would not surprise me if subspecialty status for herbal medicine under the ACVCP exacerbated this problem. I will have to see, of course, the details of any such application before I can draw any conclusions about whether it might serve to make herbal medicine a truly scientific discipline or give a patina of legitimacy to mystical folk medicine practices.

For now, I will wait with interest to see if the ABVS makes any additional information available and how the potential integration of herbalism into the ACVCP proceeds.

Addendum 8/21/2018- The ABVS has responded to my inquiry and will only indicate that they recommended the ACVBM seek recognition as a subspecialty under an existing specialty college. Apparently, no additional information about the process or the decision will be made public.

Addendum 9/2/2018-
One of the members of the ACVBM petition organizing committee directed me to a recent newsletter from the World Association of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (WATCVM) for more information about the ABVS response to the petition:

Additional tentative ‘Big News’, Herbal medicine including TCVM, has a potential ‘door opened’ as The American College of Veterinary Botanical Medicine’s petition to be recognized as a boarded veterinary specialty was not rejected, but not accepted. The ACVBM was told that although the petition was impressive and complete, the ABVS feels unwilling to have the ACVBM as a stand-alone college. So the petition to be a stand-alone college was not accepted. But, the ABVS instructed the ACVBM to resubmit the petition under the ‘wings’ of a pre-existing college, specifically the College of Clinical Pharmacology. I am sure all are aware of the irony of this, as drug therapy is a molecular perversion of herbal medicine.

The ACVBM will start exploring this route being clear that the ACVBM must retain its autonomy and ability to hold true to the herbal traditions that are the foundation of herbal medicine. The ACVBM will need to re-submit its petition by November of 2018.

I have to wonder how eager the College of Clinical Pharmacology will be to accept as a subsidiary specialty a group whose leadership views their discipline as “a molecular perversion of herbal medicine?”

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6 Responses to Herbal Medicine Will not be a Recognized Medical Specialty

  1. Soren Drimer Pejstrup says:

    Isn’t it a bit counter intuitive to maseure a field, that stand in opposition to modern western medicin, on western medicine-principles?
    I mean, judging a field that prides it self on being and alternative, on the same principles as the specialeties they reject, seems odd…

  2. skeptvet says:

    This is a subject of debate in the alternative medicine community. Some do make the argument that such methods are completely outside the “paradigm” of science and so should not be evaluated by scientific methods. However, since science has been extremely successful and has been largely accepted by most people as a way of validating medical claims, this hard-line alternative approach tends to appeal to few people, which limits the ability to market such practices. The “complementary” and “integrative” models are more popular, partly because some have an honest desire to see science validate what they already believe they know to be true, but also because this is a more effective way to get people to accept and use these therapies.

    I also don’t think the term “Western Medicine” is very useful. Scientific medicine is the dominant form of treatment in every part of the world, and many of the leading scientists and researchers are not from Europe or North America, so it is not been a predominantly “Western” business anymore. Also, many alternative therapies, including herbal traditions, homeopathy, and chiropractic, were invented in Europe or North America, so they are as “Western” as conventional, science-based medicine.

  3. carl darby says:

    If herbal medicine stands in opposition to “western” medicine then what is the reason for seeking recognition by ABVS? If it wants to be recognized by an organization then surely the organization should be the one the determines what is required to be recognized, not the people looking to be recognized. I also think using the term western medicine is a bit odd. The board wants evidence of efficacy of a treatment that is based on research which follow the scientific method. The scientific method is not exclusive to medicine.It is used throughout all disciplines of science.If herbal medicine rejects the scientific method as a way to validate the efficacy of a therapy then it would seem counter intuitive to want to be recognized and evaluated by AVBS anyway.

  4. Christopher Gunson says:

    Pharmacognosy already exists as a recognized branch of medicine. Having herbalists call single drug therapy a “perversion” of herbal medicine does not help the cause of legitimizing botanical medicine.

  5. I agree. The term “Scientific medicine” is much better and descriptive and I also agree with most of been said here.

  6. art malernee dvm says:

    you need a body of science evidence large enough to have a medical specialty. I went to get some required by law CE locally. We had a boarded vet behavior speaker. A lot of time was spent telling us how the canned pheromones paying for the meeting worked. I had to take my phone out, google this website and past the phone around the table to show every one its not proven to work.

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