Conceptions of Potency, Purity, and Synergy-by-Design

Toward Developing a Sowa Rigpa Medical Theory-based Approach to Pharmaceutical Research

  • Tawny L. Tidwell
  • James H. Nettles
Keywords: Sowa Rigpa, pharmacology, synergy, integrative medicine, toxicology


Sowa Rigpa institutions and practitioners have growing interest in examining and legitimizing Sowa Rigpa formulas vis-à-vis pharmacological research methods, seeking scientific validation of what they view as ‘potency’ and ‘purity’ for their formulas. Likewise, the pharmacology researchers have demonstrated renewed interest in herbal medical traditions in mining for new drugs to address resistance, toxicity, and optimize what they view as ‘potency’ and ‘purity.’ However, differing conceptualizations emerge when the pharmacological drug discovery process is examined to determine what is being analyzed, how it is doing so, and what assumptions underlie such methods. Whether a formula is ‘active,’ ‘toxic’ or ‘effective’ hinges on assumptions, processes, and methods that typically have low fidelity to how Sowa Rigpa formulations function from the Tibetan tradition’s perspective and are actually administered to patients. This paper argues that standard mainstream biochemical pharmacology screening methods may not be suitable for analyzing Sowa Rigpa formulas, as they are traditionally compounded and understood to function in concert with multiple physiological pathways, rather than one specific target. We examine the pharmaceutical research processes to identify points of adherence and divergence with conceptions of ‘potency’ and ‘purity' in Tibetan medical theory, and believe pharmacological research institutions will be receptive to traditional Sowa Rigpa menjor (sman sbyor), or ‘medicine compounding,’ theory due to benefits it could provide biomedical drug discovery via complementary understandings of compound synergy and distinctly different concepts of toxicity and purity. Accordingly, we suggest that efficacy, activity and safety of Tibetan medicinal formulas will be more accurately assessed by retaining fidelity to its own conceptions of potency and purity.

How to Cite
Tidwell, T., & Nettles, J. (2019). Conceptions of Potency, Purity, and Synergy-by-Design. HIMALAYA - The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, 39(1), 129-149.
Special Section Research Article