For two centuries it has been evident that the rainforests have harboured a rich resource of effective botanical medicines. It is estimated that more than 20% of modern medications currently used globally have their origins in the rainforests.
Replete in secondary metabolites, particularly alkaloids, rainforest plants are responsible for drugs used every day in Western medicine in conditions ranging from cancer (vinblastine) to anaesthetics (novocaine). Yet it has been estimated that only 5-25% of all plant species have been found, with an estimated 10% of all rainforest plants estimated to have medical value. Of the 3000 plants identified by the US National Cancer Institute as active against cancer cells, 70% come from rainforests.
Hence, natural products play a major role as starting material for drug discovery. One hectare (2.47 acres) of rainforest can contain over 750 types of trees, and 1500 species of higher plants. With such a small percentage of Amazonian pharmacopeia having been systematically screened for bioactive compounds, there exists a vast resource of potential therapeutic drugs earning the the Amazon the right to be dubbed “The World’s Biggest Pharmacy”.