Herbal Pharmacy was kind of like Potions Class and it was very cool. Like I mentioned before, medicine is prescribed according to what category your signs and symptoms fall under and the medicine brings you back to equilibrium. Of course, if this was the only thing you needed to know you wouldn’t need 5 years of training to become a Pharmacist or 7 years to become a TCM physician. The ingredients they use fall under animal, plant, and mineral categories. There are hundreds of ingredients and it got me thinking. Did they have to be ingredients that naturally grow in China to be considered TCM? But for a nation as big as China with such a long history, it is impossible to assume that TCM wasn’t influenced by other countries. So I asked around to find out if TCM can ever evolve in modern times. I mean, the formulas used in TCM today had to be experimented with and the ingredients could not have all been just from China. Do you know what I mean? However, it seems like formulas used now in TCM are set. Herbs found to be useful from other places today can be used but they are considered Herbal Medicine, not TCM.
As part of my internship, I was brought to a lab session in the Pharmacy school. Everyone was given a prepared bag of a certain formula and the students brought other cooking ingredients. TCM is a large part of the culture here, and so a part of that shows up in the food. Cooking TCM with food makes it taste better and more nutritious. What surprised me a little was how much rice wine in cooking the medicine. It’s obviously not used to get drunk; instead, it is added because 1) it has a lower boiling point so the medicine can brew in a shorter time 2) the wine makes you sleepy, which is good when you’re sick. Stacked in a corner of the rooms were crate of rice wine. Something you won’t see in a chemistry lab. The group I worked with brought hotpot ingredients and used the medicine as a hotpot, which was yummy.
The only problem I had was when the teacher announced to the entire class that I was from America and was here to learn about TCM. Right after, a surge of 20 students rushed at me and wanted to take pictures. Haha, but it was fun getting to know people.
I was able to work in a commercial pharmacy as well as the pharmacy in the hospital. The hospital is geared towards producing/bagging medicine at a greater volume so they have a very innovative computerized system for this. For powdered medicine (extracts of the real thing), each bottle has a barcode and the pharmacist responsible for combining the medicine together swipes his card, swipes the prescription, and then swipes each bottle used. If the wrong bottle is swiped, then the computer voices it and when the last bottle is swiped, the computer automatically says the prescription is complete. Each prescription has a total mass on the bottom of the sheet so when the pharmacist is finished with combining all the powders, he/she weighs the whole thing to make sure it has the correct weight. After the medicine is packaged into little bags, there is a weight the medicine (bags and all) should have. This is actually a very clever way to measure performance and to prevent mistakes when things get busy. The computer measures how fast and accurate a pharmacist can put together the medicine. Unfortunately, it’s harder to create a similar system with the section of the pharmacy dealing with TCM with the actual herbs. But, the person who created the system for the powdered medicine is working on it. I’d like to see what he comes with.
A pharmacist has to know where the ingredients come from, as in its original live form. As well as what it should look like when they are prepared. They should know how they are prepared and why. They should be able to identify the ingredient and recognize fakes. An ingredient can be prepared by drying it, “frying it” with honey or stones. Some more toxic ingredients are cooked or prepared to decrease the toxicity level into medicine. After all, all medicine is poison in large amounts. The preparation can bring out the effects of the herb, or dampen it depending on its potency. The pharmacist also learns to identify the herb using spectroscopy methods such as TLC and HPLC, types of chromatography. And of course, they should be able to know what ingredients cross-react with one another. So the amount of information they need to know is quite a lot, just like WM pharmacists.
A shout-out to pharmacists everywhere…kudos.