Lobelia is used for breathing problems including asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, and shortness of breath (apnea) in newborn infants. Some people take lobelia as a sedative to help them relax. Other people use it to increase sweating.
Lobelia is applied to the skin for muscle pain, joint lumps associated with rheumatoid arthritis (rheumatic nodules), bruises, sprains, insect bites, poison ivy, and ringworm.
In manufacturing, lobelia is used in cough preparations and counter irritant products. Some stop-smoking products around the world include lobelia as an ingredient. But since 1993, manufacturers have not been allowed to include lobelia in stop-smoking products sold in the U.S. That’s when research found that lobelia doesn’t make stop-smoking products any more effective.
Lobelia is named after French Botanist Matthias de L’Obel (1583-1616). The plant is a member of the Lobachevsky Family and is native to the Northeastern United States and Canada. There are over 350 different species of Lobelia spanning the globe. The herb native to the Northeastern US (Lobelia inflate) was also commonly referred to as; Indian tobacco, Asthma Weed, and Vomit wort. It has a long history of use and was regularly imported into England from the US as a nursery species and a plant. Samuel Thomson (9 February 1769-5 October 1843) was a self-taught American herbalist and founder of the alternative system of medicine known as “Thomsonian Medicine”, which enjoyed wide popularity in the United States during the 19th century. He was responsible for popularizing the use of Lobelia, Cayenne, and other herbs during his time. Dr. John Christopher said that Lobelia is one of the greatest herbs in the world. It is certainly one of the most disputed herbs in the world¸ yet those who use it consider it to be indispensable in their herbal repertoire, acting as a “thinking” agent which goes to whatever part of the body is ailing and addresses it, often in conjunction with other herbs. Dr. Christopher considered that Lobelia would help correct the entire bodily system, as it is easily diffused and utilized.”
What is Lobelia Used for?
Lobelia has a history of use supporting respiratory health. Lobelia contains several alkaloids that appear to provide some nicotine-like stimulation during smoking cessation. Clinical trials with one isolated alkaloid, lobeline, showed mixed results in people trying to stop smoking. Lobelia itself is the preferred form as it is much less likely to cause nausea than the isolated chemical lobeline. Also, it is likely the combination of constituents results in its effects.
Lobelia may provide health benefits
Lobelias contain several different alkaloids, or compounds that provide therapeutic or medicinal effects. Well-known alkaloids include caffeine, nicotine, and morphine
The most prominent alkaloid in Lobelia inflate is lobeline, which may protect against the following ailments — though more research is needed
Asthma and other respiratory disorders
Lobelia is sometimes used alongside conventional medications to help treat symptoms of asthma attacks, such as wheezing, uncontrollable coughing, and chest tightness.
This is because lobeline may relax your airways, stimulate breathing, and clear mucus from your lungs
Lobelia is also used to relieve pneumonia and bronchitis, two types of lung infections that cause coughing and difficulty breathing, among other symptoms
Even though lobelia is often recommended by both herbalists and physicians to treat asthma and related issues, no human studies have examined its effects on respiratory ailments.
However, one study found that injecting mice with lobeline helped fight lung injury by stopping the production of inflammatory proteins and preventing swelling (6Trusted Source).
Though these findings are promising, human research is needed.
Compounds found in lobelia may also help protect against mood disorders, including depression.
Specifically, lobeline may block certain receptors in the brain that play a role in the development of depression (2Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source).
One study in mice revealed that lobe line significantly reduced depressive behaviors and levels of stress hormones in the blood, while another mouse trial suggested that this compound may enhance the effects of common antidepressant medications (2Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
Still, human studies are needed to better understand how lobe line affects this condition. Currently, lobelia cannot be recommended as an alternative treatment for conventional antidepressant medications.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Lobelia may help manage attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Lobe line may relieve certain symptoms, including hyperactivity and difficulty focusing, by improving the release and uptake of dopamine in your brain (3Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).
One study in 9 adults with ADHD noted that taking up to 30 mg of lobe line per day, in addition to traditional medications, helped improve memory and concentration over 1 week. However, the results were insignificant (3Trusted Source).
Lobelia has been studied as a potential treatment for drug abuse.
Since lobe line has similar effects on your body as nicotine, it has long been considered a possible tool to help people quit smoking.
Still, research on this topic has been mixed, leading the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban lobe line for smoking treatment in 1993 due to the lack of evidence about its efficacy (10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source).
Nevertheless, some studies indicate that lobe line may be beneficial for other types of drug addictions, as it can interact with brain receptors responsible for the release of neurotransmitters that makes drugs addictive (4Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).
One study in rats addicted to heroin found that lobe line injections of 0.5–1.4 mg per pound of body weight (1–3 mg per kg) decreased the number of times that the rodents tried to inject themselves with heroin (13Trusted Source).
Although preliminary studies are promising, research in this area is lacking. Thus, lobelia cannot be recommended as an effective treatment for any type of drug addiction.
Compounds in other types of lobelia, especially the alkaloid lobinaline found in Lobelia cardinals, have been shown to act as antioxidants (14Trusted Source).
Antioxidants are compounds that fight free radicals. These are reactive molecules that can damage cells in your body and increase your risk of illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease (15Trusted Source).
One study found that, in addition to fighting free radicals, lobinaline aided brain signaling pathways (14Trusted Source).
Thus, this compound may play a beneficial role in diseases that stem from free radical damage and affect the brain, such as Parkinson’s disease. However, more research is needed (14Trusted Source).
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Dosage, side effects, and safety
Since research on lobelia is limited, no standardized dosages or recommendations exist.
One study in adults with ADHD suggested that up to 30 mg of lobe line per day in tablet form appears to be safe. Nonetheless, some participants experienced side effects, including nausea, a bitter aftertaste, and mouth numbness (3Trusted Source).
Furthermore, lobelia is known to induce vomiting and can be poisonous — even fatal — in very high doses
Children, individuals taking medications, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid lobelia products due to the lack of safety research.
If you are interested in taking lobelia, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider or an experienced herbalist beforehand.
Keep in mind that supplements are not well regulated by the FDA, so the amount in the product may not match what’s listed on the label. Always choose supplements that have been tested by a third party.
The Health Benefits of Lobelia
Lobelia (Lobelia inflate) is a plant used in herbal and homeopathic medicine. Said to expel mucus from the respiratory tract, it is used to treat respiratory problems. In addition, some individuals use lobelia to help them quit smoking, sooth muscles, support alcoholism recovery, and more. While this wide range of uses is attractive, lobelia is listed in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Poisonous Plant Database as a potentially toxic herb.1 It should be avoided. It is banned in Bangladesh and Italy.
If, despite this, you do decide to use lobelia, it’s best to consult your medical provider and use extreme caution. Since there are limited human studies, not much is known about its effects.
To date, research on the potential health benefits of lobelia has yielded mixed results. Advocates tout lobelia as a natural remedy for the prevention or treatment of the following health problems:
Scientific studies do not support all of these benefits, however (either for lobelia or a compound it contains called lobe line).
Here’s a sense of the limited research related to some of the more popular benefit claims.
In animal studies, lobe line has been linked to reduced alcohol preference and lower alcohol consumption.2 To date, however, there are no human studies to prove that lobe line can help treat alcoholism.Alternative Therapies to Treat Alcohol Addiction
Lobelia has been promoted to help people fight the effects of nicotine withdrawal by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain (which has an effect similar to cigarettes). Analysis of both short- and long-term research, however, determined that lobelia appears to offer no benefit in smoking cessation.3
Lobe line was once a common ingredient in over-the-counter products used to alleviate symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal. However, in 1993, the FDA issued a ban on the sale of anti-smoking products containing lobe line due to a lack of evidence of the ingredient’s effectiveness as a nicotine substitute.4 Natural Remedies to Help You Quit Smoking
Preliminary mice studies show that lobe line may help alleviate depression by influencing certain brain chemicals involved in regulating mood.4 There are no sufficient human studies on this.8 Natural Depression Remedies to Consider
Lobelia is often touted for its use in such respiratory conditions as asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia. This is because the herb is said to act as an expectorant, helping to thin mucus (phlegm), cause a more productive cough, and help you to breathe better. Unfortunately, here too, there is not a sufficient amount of research to back up these claims.
A small human study found that lobe line helped to improve working memory in adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but few improvements were found in attention.5
Since lobelia has been shown to improve the release and uptake of dopamine in the brain, it may play a role in the treatment of ADHD symptoms. To date, however, more human research is needed to determine its effectiveness.