11 votes

There are no uniquely "natural" chemicals as every chemical is natural

The word "natural" is now ubiquitous in our society. Companies market "natural" products, governments regulate "natural" products (or more specifically the very similar and sometimes synonymous term "organic"), and scores of people devote much energy to live as naturally as possible. People discuss "natural" food and medicine as if it is self-explanatory. It is not self-explanatory and everyone seems to have a different idea of what it means. In fact the term 'natural' is about as specific and standardized as 'normal.' What is normal? What is natural?

The most common definition I see of "natural" is that if a chemical is extracted from something in nature, then it is natural. One example is Saint John's wort, which is used as an alternative treatment for depression. Hypericum perforatum (Saint John's wort) grows in nature, therefore it and the chemicals it produces are natural. Research so far has shown that the major antidepressive constituents in the plant are hyperforin and hypericin and possibly some flavenoids and tannins. These drugs are thought to inhibit serotonin reuptake (much like the SSRIs like Prozac and Zoloft) and inhibit noradrenalin and dopamine reuptake (like Wellbutrin). The "natural" drugs have similar pharmacological mechanisms as "synthetic" drugs, yet the latter is often demonized and the former is not. The criticism of the "synthetic" drugs does not focus on their mechanism of action, but on the source of the drug.

One could argue that the chemicals in Saint John's wort are safer than the Big Pharma antidepressants. This may or may not be a valid claim. In this case the chemicals in Saint John's wort have similar pharmacological mechanisms as the "synthetic" antidepressants, but being different chemicals they inevitably have certain differences in their biological effects. Negative effects in humans have been documented and it is known that Saint Johns wort is toxic to livestock, so it is not necessarily safer than drugs like Zoloft simply for being "natural."

"Natural" drugs are often promoted as safe, but this wildly inaccurate. Every drug, regardless of how it is classified, has positive and negative effects. This is without exception. Even water in high enough doses is fatal.

It is one thing to compare and contrast the therapeutic benefits of two different drugs, but what if a "natural" drug extracted from a plant is the exact same chemical as one synthesized in a laboratory? (This includes stereochemistry and geometric isomerism.) If one strictly analyzes an isolated product, the mechanism for producing the chemical doesn't matter. If you introduce a chemical into our bodies, our enzymes do not care about the source. Our metabolic pathways do not change based on whether a chemical was extracted from a plant or synthesized in a laboratory. Nature is not prejudiced and superstitious like humans. (i.e. I like peanut butter and jelly sandwichs made peanut butter first then jelly and I hate jelly than peanut butter. It is the same final sandwich.) It is the same chemical.

I see a lot of criticism about chemotherapy in libertarian forums (some justified and others paranoid), but a perfect example of the natural-unnatural fallacy is the drug Taxol. Taxol, the generic name being paclitaxel, is a "natural" drug found in the bark of the Pacific yew tree. Originally it was derived from the bark as a "natural" drug, but now due to scarcity of the tree it is totally synthesized in a laboratory. It is the same product. The same chemical. Critics promoting "natural" alternatives to this type of chemotherapy ignore that this drug is "natural" according to their own arbitrary classification schemes.

It is a similar situation with the notorious drug methamphetamine. The 'legalize it' crowd frequently promotes the "natural" qualities of marijuana and demonizes the synthetic and artificial properties of drugs like methamphetamine, but methamphetamine is produced by the plant Acacia berlandieri. It is every bit as "natural" as THC.

But what about the chemicals synthesized in a laboratory that are not found in nature? My response: how do you know? There is an entire industry based on exploring the ocean and jungles for undiscovered chemicals. There are teams of chemists who go diving to collect any specimens they can to test them for anti-cancer drugs. They have spectroscopy instruments and biology labs right on the boats. Many commonly used drugs today (and sold by Big Pharma) were first isolated from plants, animals, bacteria, and other organisms. There is an endless supply of chemicals found in nature that are completely unknown to man. It is possible that every single chemical ever discovered by man is produced by some organism somewhere.

Many of host organisms for these medicines are rare (like the Pacific yew tree), which makes it impractical to do large scale extractions, so it is essential to "artificially" synthesize these drugs from more common precursors. This process should not be feared, as purity and concentration of the final product can be strictly controlled. There is concern that isolating a bioactive drug can possibly remove the synergy achieved when the drug is in situ (like in a flower), but this goes both ways, as isolating the drug might also remove it from other drugs that undermine the therapeutic benefits in situ. This is an important consideration to make when deciding on a medical treatment, but isolating a bioactive molecule does not affect the inherent "naturalness" of the drug.

Some people in the "natural" culture seem to forget that humans are a part of nature. Plants and other organisms produce chemicals in the same manner as scientists in a laboratory- through a series of chemical reactions. Humans use chemistry to our advantage, both intrinsically and extrinsically, as every other organism in existence. Efforts to live and eat more "naturally" are often in vain (don't confuse the terms "naturally" with "healthy"), as it is impossible to avoid consuming "unnatural" chemicals. For example, cooking food, one of the most primitive- advanced human activities, is an "unnatural" chemical reaction. Meat is not cooked in nature (unless a cow is caught in a wildfire or struck by lightning).

But these examples bypass the ultimate point that all atoms and molecules exist on Earth and in the universe, therefore all chemicals are natural.

Trending on the Web

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Bumping this thread.

This is a DailyPaul original, and I keep seeing the natural fallacy pop up all over the place this week.

Rather Incoherent

nat·u·ral [nach-er-uhl, nach-ruhl]
1. existing in or formed by nature ( opposed to artificial): a natural bridge.
2. based on the state of things in nature; constituted by nature: Growth is a natural process.
3. of or pertaining to nature or the universe: natural beauty.
4. of, pertaining to, or occupied with the study of natural science: conducting natural experiments.
5. in a state of nature; uncultivated, as land.

You wrote quite a bit and gave a lot of examples, but none of it is coherent enough to support a conclusion.
Not sure what all that I read was really trying to communicate.


Mark you are right there is a lot of confusion. Much of it caused by marketeers who hope to use words to their advantage while avoiding anything that conflict with their interests.

Naturally occurring biomolecules are no promise of safety. The venom of the Blowfish or the toxins in Poison Ivy are two examples.

I have been researching chlorinated compounds (like sucrolose). Have any chlorinated biomolcules been found in nature?

Free includes debt-free!

Organochlorides are relatively rare

But they exist. I find epibatidine to be pretty interesting. It is from the poison dart frog and found to be a powerful analgesic.


Misleading title

The first words in your article are: "There is no such thing as "natural" chemicals," but the last words are "therefore all chemicals are natural."

The title of your piece should read "All chemicals are natural."

Isn't that your point? If it is, I agree, but I would suggest changing your title.

allegory - ˈalɪg(ə)ri/ - noun - 1. a story, poem, or picture which can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.

Yeah I guess you are right

I wanted to say something along the lines of "there are no uniquely natural chemicals because all chemicals are natural"

I was in a hurry to go out last night and didn't correct it.

The word is very abused.

It always confused me as a child when 'natural' and 'man-made' were portrayed as opposites. I am still confused. I feel pretty natural.

Natural chemicals, per definition, would be water, diamonds, salt, sugar, carbon dioxide, etc. They exist without 'man' intervening.

Organically grown produce is also a bit foggy to me. The prohibition of pesticides makes sense, but is a plant more nutritious if is grown with soil and no chemical fertilizer? It all comes out the same. And actually the addition of a full spectrum fertilizer with micro nutrients would ensure that the produce is perfectly healthy.

Very good post

Even though it has nothing to do with Ron Paul, your post is important.
People get hung up on words they do not understand. They get even more hung up on processes they do not understand.

Fist. Everything is a chemical and has a chemical structure!

Second the most dangerous chemical known is man is water. It kills more people each than anything else. It kills more people than all the pesticides combined.

Third is a monkey makes something, it is natural, if a human makes something it is un-natural. Considering there is not much difference between a monkey and human (maybe a few 100K years), the mentality is absurd. I generally write these people off as monkey humpers, who never fully developed their human brains.

Forth, most people complaining about man made chemicals, do so via the internet where they continually contact their computer that was made from man made chemicals.

Fifth, many many many many chemicals can be engineered in the lab to be identical, not only is structure but also chirality.

Will it go round in circles? Will it fly high like a bird

up in the sky?

Human: what came first, the chicken, the egg or the chemical precursors to both?

Chicken: did it ever occur to you people that you are massively hung up on the nature of causality?

Be brave, be brave, the Myan pilot needs no aeroplane.

Your challenge is implicit. here is my response.

go ahead, do me one better!


Natural vs. Synthetic.

What I find intriguing is that a natural chemical, i.e. one found in nature and not manufactured or abstracted by industrial processes, is usually accompanied by other chemicals in situ and it is the combined effect of this interacting "family" of chemicals that produces positive results in treating pathologies.

At the same time there is a clear profit motive for the chemical industry to abstract what they perceive to be the active chemical in any treatment based upon natural chemicals and to patent this one chemical or to recombine it with other similarly abstracted chemicals and once again patent the combinations as pharmaceutical drugs.

It is our intuition of this process of abstraction and recombination for profit that I believe is at the root of our resistance to pharmaceuticals and our embrace of natural remedies. It is also why the "synthetic" remedy is much more expensive than the "natural" one and most often less effective and more dangerous.

The Chemical cartel is one of the Big Three industries along with Oil and Drugs that control most of our lives and manufacture most of the things we use every day. Their central means of asserting monopoly control is to patent everything they can and to do so they must be able to demonstrate some degree of intervention in nature. This is why they so forcefully oppose any natural remedies which threaten their means to monopolise our lives.

"Jesus answered them: 'Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'" (John 8:34-36)

Thank you, David.

"...a natural chemical, i.e. one found in nature and not manufactured or abstracted by industrial processes, is usually accompanied by other chemicals in situ..." Other chemicals in situ and also, I'd say, more than we currently know. For example, with biodynamic farming/ gardening - a successful form of agriculture helping to restore the great damage done through GMO-farming in India (for one) - it is "not possible" that the application of minute amounts of "compost teas" (compost heavily diluted in water and stirred in such a way as to produce a certain agitation) could have any appreciable effect on soil and plants. Except... it does. (To see what I'm referring to, watch 3:25 to 4:00 http://www.baytalinsaan.com/webtv/oneman.htm.) It might be true that, to the best of our ability to identify and measure things at the current time, chemicals derived from natural sources and those replicated in labs appear to be the same. But I believe with all my soul that we simply do not understand the profundity of the natural world - whether it's a matter of looking at things more holistically (with a wider perspective) and/or deeper.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
~ John Muir

It goes both ways

What if the other chemicals in situ inhibit the therapeutic benefits of the bioactive molecule? Or does nature always give us the perfect ratios and combinations for our pathologies? (I know that is not true).

I'm not defending the chemical cartel. I was just attempting to dispel common misunderstandings I read on these forums about chemistry.

Extremely good point!

Thank you for blasting this post out of the water!!!

It is absolutely right that other chemical components make the natural version of any drug what it is. Removing the active component is all about controlling patents.


How does this blast my post out of the water?

I think you missed my point. I wasn't talking about patents or any such thing.

Try this example. Pretend that I (an independent anarcho-capitalist not affiliated with any corporation and not intending to rip off the public with a patent) extract 3 molecules from a plant, molecules A, B, and C. Let's pretend they work together in vivo to produce the therapeutic effects (since that concept is troubling some people).

I learn the chemical structure of molecules A, B, and C, and due to the rarity of the flower, I decided that it would be easier to synthesize the three molecules starting with similar, far more common precursor chemicals.

So with some chemistry I synthesize the exact molecules A,B,and C that I originally extracted from the flower and put them into a pill in the exact same ratios as found in the flower.

The molecules A,B, and C that I "artificially" synthesized are the exact same "natural" molecules that I extracted from the flower.

There is NO DIFFERENCE between the chemicals. There is no difference between the "natural" drug and the "synthetic" drug.

I hate to bump a stupid post

But really there are no "natural" chemicals? That has to be the dumbest thing anyone has ever said on this forum. If you can't even title your post properly then why should any thinking person even consider your bogus assumptions. So first let's see what is "Natural"
A quick search of the word natural gives the following three definitions.

1. of nature: relating to nature
2. conforming with nature: in accordance with the usual course of nature
3. produced by nature: present in or produced by nature, not artificial or synthetic

But wait! You can't title your post "There are no unnatural chemicals" because that would be just as ignorant because as we all know there are many man made chemicals.

Your post is incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial.

Try again monkey boy.

Looking up the word "nature" in the dictionary?

Wow! That is the most advanced debating skill I have ever seen!


Apparently it worked. Thanks for the comic relief.

I am wondering what field are you in

Are you a chemist or a chemical engineer? You seem to have a lot of articles about chemicals. I am an Electrical Engineer, btw. I thank chemical engineers for creating doping of semiconductors and awesome batteries.

I do agree the line between what most call 'natural' and 'unnatural' is arbitrary at best. At worst, it is deceptive.

I think my view of natural is organic compounds from natural sources. Many hydrocarbons have many different configurations even if it is the same 'chemical'. Normally, this is called an allotrope.


Deception comes into play when this 'all natural product' can cure everything and anything under the sun. Snake oil salesmen always exist.

Thus, chemicals produced organically might be more digestible depending on the configuration of the compound itself. For instance, organic vitamins are easier to absorb due to chasers in the molecular structure. Anti-vitamins do the opposite.


In terms of MK Ultra chemicals and what not, I am of the opinion that with disorientation (sleep deprivation) and other processes (drugs) people can be 'mind controlled'. Idk, how you feel about that Mark. Usually we are very agreeable.

May the LORD bless you and keep you
May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you
May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace
Follow me on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/Burning_Sirius

I'm in my second year of dental school

It took countless hours of studying chemistry to get this far. I love medicinal chemistry. I am not really a lab rat and do not enjoy writing academic papers otherwise I probably would have been a medicinal chemist/pharmacologist.

But when you talk about configuration, I was implying it. Chiralty, stereochemistry, geometric isomerism, are all a part of molecules being identical. All of these characteristics can be achieved synthetically. This is why there is no inherent difference between a "natural" and "sythetic molecule." Please read some of the other posts I have responded to in this thread.

You and I are usually on the same page, but not with MK-Ultra. MK-Ultra was a massive and embarrassing failure for our government because they realized they could not brainwash people with tryptamines and phenethylamines (the primary psychotropic families). I have taken many of the so called brainwashing drugs for fun and I assure you that the make you more aware of your surroundings and of the absurdities of life. Some of the drugs in those 2 families are awful (and can do things like cause seizures) but they can't be used for brainwashing. This is the reason why our government abandoned the project 60 years ago and declassified the information.

I was getting into it with a bunch of Infowarriors about scopolamine. Our government didn't even bother to make scopolamine illegal. lol. If it was a powerful chemical that can be used for mind control believe me it would be illegal. I actually stopped listening to Alex Jones because of the whole drug issue. He is so uninformed but so arrogant about psychotropics that I laugh at him now and can't take him seriously. He just repeates pseudoscience and urban legends ad presents them as fact of a massive conspiracy. It's too bad, as I think he makes very good points on other issues. But how can I know for sure?

Good analysis

Yeah, I agree with you. The power of those drugs are over stated by the conspiracy guys. I tend to affiliate with them. This issue is stretching it a bit imo. Can a duped patsy be drugged and disoriented (like having no sleep) and be a fall guy? Yeah I believe it. I do not put anything above this government.

Likewise drugs that 'get rid of your will' I think are a bit ridiculous as you have stated. Will is not overridden in how I view things, you are just so mentally depleted that when the cops come to get you you basically fall down have a seizure with planted weapons. The cops automatically assume guilt. I think that is what happened to the Aurora shooter.

Plant a bunch of explosives on you and keep you highly sedated so you cannot defend yourself. You saw the court room where he could barely stay awake. He cannot defend himself.

You could argue either way imo, and I still respect you. Others on here are not so respectful. I tend to keep an open mind about things. Sometimes mainstream answers are the right answer. I readily admit this.

Alex is wrong sometimes. Doesn't mean I stop listening to him. I just turn off the stream or radio when he is ranting about something I do not care for. I could not listen to him for a week after he let Tarpley have an hour long rant against Austrian Economics after Rand's so called 'defection'. He was emotionally hurt, and Tarpley seized the moment to slander us.


Also, your last sentence is a logical fallacy. That is called poisoning the well. Just letting you know to sharpen your arguing skills. Either that, or your are being awesomely sarcastic toward the anti-Rand people on here.

May the LORD bless you and keep you
May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you
May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace
Follow me on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/Burning_Sirius

Thanks for pointing the poison well fallacy

I think there needs to be more accountability in the liberty community for logical fallacies. I see them often (especially 'appealing to nature' on the health forums).

But you had a fallacy yourself. I saw the courtroom video and I agree with others that he was not alert and possibly intoxicated, but that does not give any indication of his state of mind during the incident. It is legal for authorities to drug uncooperative inmates in custody. He looked to me like he was high on a benzodiazepine and sleep deprived (which wouldn't be surprising in this circumstance). Being sedated in court does not mean he was sedated before his arrest.

Oh I agree

that could be the case. I just find it fishy that all the evil shootings took place days before the UN gun ban treaty. All mass shootings seem that way. Virginia Tech, Columbine, Oklahoma City, ext.

I think mine was not so much logical as what could be a factual fallacy. I am open to whoever brings to me a stronger case. If this dude is genuinely crazy, it shows the need for more liberal self defense laws. Either way, what happened was super bad and the loss of life is horrendous. I am not closed minded like other conspiracy guys. I go off what I know as facts and come to a conclusion. My conclusion maybe wrong. I am not perfect.

The argument was he was not sedated before arrest. If people are arguing that, it is a losing battle. It is openly admitted that he was taking psychotropic drugs. Those drugs can cause seizures. They could of caused him to OD. He had a seizure when he walked out of the theater according to reports.

We are going off of historical precedent with the drugging. Hitler drugged up some dupe and had him blamed for the burning the Reichstag and also drugged up another dupe to provoke war with Poland. This was all admitted in the Nuremburg Trials. What Nazi Germany did, the United States government can also do. I put nothing above these crooks.

I want your arguments to succeed Mark. That is why I pointed that out. I am not a jerk. The DP has tons of people who think they are logic incarnate, but commit logical fallacies all the time. Ironically, logical fallacies are committed the most by people who worship 'Reason'.

May the LORD bless you and keep you
May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you
May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace
Follow me on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/Burning_Sirius

Nice article Well thought out

Very helpful to inject some reason and information into the mix.

Too often we get knee-jerk fearmongering and hype when it comes to such matters.

Your second to last paragraph isn't so much a blatant lie,

you're simply uninformed I think. To say it isn't natural to cook food is like saying it isn't natural to wear clothing, till land for cultivation, shape metal into pans, or any of the other modifications that humans make to materials and their environment.

Quite simply, humans are the only creatures who consistently find everything in their world in an unfinished state. Everything, everything we encounter requires modification of some kind before it is useful to us.

The whole question of whether it is 'natural' to do so is moot. compared to the rest of nature nearly everything humans do is 'unnatural'.

and BTW, the argument that human activity is or can be defined as natural is the justification used by satanists for murder, torture, genocide. "hey, we're 'natural' beings so everything we do is natural, right?"


Defeat the panda-industrial complex

I am dusk icon. anagram me.

I'm talking about chemical reactions. You are not.

Tilling land for cultivation does not change the chemical properties of the soil. It just shifts it. Shaping a metal also does not change the chemical properties. It just alters it physically.

Cooking food is an actual chemical reaction. It is a chemical reaction that rarely occurs in nature. It is also a reaction that has a product that we consume as food. Food alters our biochemistry and is technically a drug.

And I wasn't talking about behavior. I didn't say anything about murder or torture or any other morality issue. I was talking strictly about chemistry.

Baloney. Hogwash.

EEERRRPPP! Sorry, but synthesized chemicals are not the same as the same chemicals found in their natural states.

First, even though a chemical may contain the same number of atoms of say, carbon, nitrogen, etc, they are arranged different orders in manufactured molecules. Example - trans fats. The 'trans' refers to a type of molecular bond that occurs when 2 bonds are on opposite sides of the fatty acid chain. A 'cis' bond means that both double-bonds are on the same side of the fat molecule. Read more:

Second, chemicals found in nature react in conjunction with the other chemicals in the same plant. This synergy is lost when the chemical is isolated.

Nice try with the dis-info, better try to peddle it somewhere else though cause we're ready and waiting for your type here on D.P.

Defeat the panda-industrial complex

I am dusk icon. anagram me.

Okay? Cis and trans isomerism is just an aspect of my point

When I say that two molecules are the same I am considering stereochemistry and cis-trans isomerism. When I say the same I literally mean identical. cis-2-pentene is the same as cis-2-pentene even if one is extracted and one is synthesized. They exist in the same state.

But you might have a point about synergy. That complicates the issue and makes studying the drugs objectively and scientifically even more difficult. Would you rather take an isolated drug of a quantified dosage or a cocktail of drugs, dosages and chemicals unknown?

That's pretty cool

I could always use a bit more education ^_^ And it makes sense. I always doubted using this little pill that's made up of the chemical our bodies create to induce sleep, even though I hear that it's the exact same chemical. I do believe it's true, but I could never really get around to taking the pill, even though it's sitting on my shelf waiting for me to use it on long nights. It just seems weird to me, using a pill to go to sleep.

One of the interesting thing about extracting just one chemical out of a plant is that the same plant has lots of other chemicals that support that main chemical, or counterbalance its negative effects. This is why I believe it's generally better to use the whole food source instead of an extract.

Cool topic.

"Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice." -- Thomas Paine

I'm assuming you are talking about melatonin

It is far more effective for inducing sleep, in my opinion, than diphenhydramine (in Tylenol PM) or zolpidem (Ambien).

Melatonin will knock your butt to sleep within 30 minutes. I use it every once in a while, but it gives me extremely lucid dreams. It also makes me groggy in the morning if I don't give myself adequate sleep time.

Personally I think I prefer diphenhydramine. It is more tame, so to speak, than raw melatonin.