When is a Natural Product, Not a Natural Product?

Boumendjel et al. (2013) reported identification of tramadol in the root bark of the African peach or pincushion tree, and concluded that the synthetic opiate was being produced at clinical levels by the tree.  If true, this could allow the harvesting of root bark and allow it to be used as a low-cost natural pain reliever.

Kusari et al. (2014) replicated the study of Boumendjel et al. (2013) and indeed did independently identify the presence of tramadol in the root bark, soil and water samples from the northern region of Cameroon.  The presence of tramadol was not present in samples of the root bark obtained from central or southern Cameroon.  Kusari et al. (2014) conducted field interviews with the local farmers and identified that they were using tramadol for off-label use in both cattle and humans.  The farmers were administering tramadol to the draft animals (cattle) (and to themselves) to prevent them from getting tired in the high heat conditions during the work day.  Based on field research, Kusari et al. (2014) identified that farmers in the north used tramadol, and its use was not known in the central and south, thus concluding that the drug was not being synthesized by the plants, but rather was the result of cross-contamination from the cattle’s urine and feces.



Boumendjel, A., Sotoing Taïwe, G., Ngo Bum, E., Chabrol, T., Beney, C., Sinniger, V., . . . De Waard, M. (2013). Occurrence of the synthetic analgesic Tramadol in an African medicinal plant. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 52(45), 11780-11784. doi:10.1002/anie.201305697

Kusari, S., Tatsimo, S. J. N., Zühlke, S., Talontsi, F. M., Kouam, S. F., & Spiteller, M. (2014). Tramadol—A true natural product? Angewandte Chemie International Edition, n/a-n/a. doi:10.1002/anie.201406639