Chinese patent medicines generally consist of several herbs and other ingredients, dried and ground into powder, mixed and formed into pills. The is traditionally honey. The pills are often small, spherical, and black, appearing like black pearls. They may come in other forms such as liquids, powders, or capsules. Companies make Chinese patent medicines both within and outside China.
These medicines are not "patented" in the traditional sense of the word. No one has exclusive rights to the formula. Instead, "patent" refers to the standardization of the formula. All Chinese patent medicines of the same name can be expected to have the same proportions of ingredients.
Chinese patent medicines are similar to patent medicines of the West, but there are some differences. For instance, the efficacy of Western patent medicines are often questionable, and ingredients are usually kept secret. There has been much research on the effects of Chinese patent medicines, and the ingredients are clearly known and usually written right on the bottle.
Chinese patent medicines are easy to use and convenient, but they do not lend themselves to customized or acute treatment. They are best used when a patient's condition is not severe and the medicine can be taken as a long-term treatment.
Chinese classic herbal formulas form the basis of Chinese patent medicine. These are the basic herbal formulas that students of Traditional Chinese medicine learn. Later, students will adapt these classic formulas to match the needs of each patient.
Many of these formulas are quite old. For example, "Liu Wei Di Huang Wan" was developed by Qian Yi . It was published in the "The Correct Execution of Pediatric Medicinals and Patterns" in 1119 by Qian Yi's student.
Heavy metal contamination
Some Chinese patent medicines were tested and found to contain high to dangerous levels of heavy metals . The most common heavy metals found were , lead, and arsenic. These ingredients can cause serious medical problems.
Some Chinese patent medicines were found to contain such as decongestants, analgesics or antihistamines. The most common Chinese patent medicines found to carry pharmaceutical drugs were for the treatment of asthma, pain, and arthritis .
Some Chinese patent medicines contain ingredients which are in other countries. The two most common prohibited herbs are and . On 30 December 2003, the in the announced a ban , on these herbs from all dietary supplements. Traditional Chinese herbal remedies are exempt from this law.