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Plants and the Human Brain

  • Discusses the relationship between plant-based chemicals and the human brain
  • Shows how these chemicals have affected the evolution of the human brain
  • Appropriate for researchers, clinicians, and students

By: David O Kennedy(Author)

379 pages, 15 b/w illustrations

Oxford University Press

Hardback | Feb 2014 | #208298 | ISBN-13: 9780199914012
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £40.99 $53/€45 approx

About this book

We're all familiar with the idea that plant-derived chemicals can have an impact on the functioning of the human brain. Most of us reach for a cup of coffee or tea in the morning, many of us occasionally eat some chocolate, some smoke a cigarette or take an herbal supplement, and some people use illicit drugs. We know a great deal about the mechanisms by which the psychoactive components of these various products have their effects on human brain function, but the question of why they have these effects has been almost totally ignored. Plants and the Human Brain sets out to describe not only how, but more importantly why, plant- and fungus-derived chemicals have their effects on the human brain. The answer to this last question resides, in part, with the terrestrial world's two dominant life forms, the plants and the insects, and the many ecological roles the 'secondary metabolite' plant chemicals are trying to play; for instance, defending the plant against insect herbivores whilst attracting insect pollinators. The answer also resides in the intersecting genetic heritage of mammals, plants, and insects and the surprising biological similarities between the three taxa. In particular it revolves around the close correspondence between the brains of insects and humans, and the intercellular signaling pathways shared by plants and humans.

Plants and the Human Brain describes and discusses both how and why phytochemicals affect brain function with respect to the three main groups of secondary metabolites: the alkaloids, which provide us with a host of poisons, a handful of hallucinogens, and most drugs of abuse (e.g. morphine, cocaine and nicotine); the phenolics, which constitute a significant and beneficial part of our natural diet; and the terpenes, a group of multifunctional compounds which provide us with the active components of cannabis and a multitude of herbal extracts.

"[...] Overall, this book is well written and easy to follow, and should appeal to both scientists and nonscientists alike. This is an excellent reference for those interested in plant biology, neuroscience, pharmacology or medicinal chemistry, and is a wonderful resource for students at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. [...] There is plenty here to like."
– Douglas Caruana, The Bulletin of the British Ecological Society 46(1), March 2015

"This is an impressive book. [...] I recommend reading it – the writing is clear, lucid, and engaging. If you don't believe me, just read the first two paragraphs – you will be hooked!"
– Dale Walters, Scotland's Rural College, Edinburgh

"This book is a scholarly masterpiece of David O. Kennedy. If you want to understand the pharmacological mode of action of the psychoactive natural products and their role in human history, Plants and the Human Brain, is fascinating read."
– Michael Wink, Heidelberg University, Germany

"For plant biology collections, this book is a jewel. Highly recommended."
– Sam Blu, Choice

"I enjoyed reading this book and learnt much from it. It deserves to be read widely as there must be few people who have the breadth of knowledge themselves which is found in it and for such it will enhance their application of this fascinating topic."
– Peter Houghton, Journal of Ethnopharmacology

"The book is extremely well referenced; therefore, not only is the text a treasure of amazing scientific discourses, but it is also an excellent factual resource that enables the reader to go beyond the book's scope. The exciting debate about the link between plants and humans continutes, and Kennedy has provided a fascinating new synthesis and exciting new insights based on a critical assesment of biochemical, pharmacological, and phytochemical evidence."

"[A] landmark contribution to psychopharmacology and human health [...] Students, teachers, and researchers of herbal medicine, biochemistry and phytochemistry, nutrition, psychopharmacology, ecology, and entomology should all avail themselves of the opportunity and pleasure to read this beautifully written book."
HerbalGram: The Journal of the American Botanical Council


Chapter 1: From shamans to starbucks
Chapter 2: Secondary metabolites and the life of plants
Chapter 3: More alike than we are unalike - Why do plant chemicals affect the human brain?
Chapter 4: Alkaloids and the lives of plants and humans
Chapter 5: The Rewarding Or Addictive Drugs
Chapter 6: The Hallucinogens
Chapter 7: The Deliriants - The nightshade (Solanaceae) family
Chapter 8: Phenolics and the Lives of Plants and Animals
Chapter 9: Phenolics and the human brain
Chapter 10: Terpenes and the Lives of Plants and Animals
Chapter 11: The Lamiaceae sub-tribe Salviinae - the Salvia, Rosmarinus and Melissa genera
Chapter 12: Cannabis and the cannabinoids
Chapter 13: Some Miscellaneous Terpenes
Chapter 14: In conclusion, comparing and contrasting the alkaloids, phenolics and terpenes

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David Kennedy is a Professor of Biological Psychology and the Director of the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Research Centre at Northumbria University in the UK. His own research centers around the effects of nutritional interventions, including plant derived chemicals, on human brain function

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