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Devil's Club

Scientific Name(s): Oplopanax horridus (Sm.) Miq.
Common Name(s): Cukilanarpak (native Alaskan for "large plant with needles"), Devil's club

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Jan 25, 2019.

Clinical Overview

Use

Devil's club has been traditionally used to treat a variety of conditions including influenza, measles, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and rheumatism. Research focuses on antimicrobial, anticancer, and hypoglycemic applications; however, there is a lack of clinical studies to support these uses.

Dosing

None well documented.

Contraindications

None well documented.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Use is best avoided because of lack of clinical studies.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

None well documented.

Toxicology

Review of the scientific literature reveals little to no evidence evaluating the toxicology of the plant, although the berries are considered to be toxic by some. Traditional use as a purgative and emetic suggests potential toxicity.

Scientific Family

  • Araliaceae (the ginseng family)

Botany

This hardy plant grows in moist ravines and well-drained soils along much of the Alaskan coast and adjacent regions of Canada and the northwestern United States; it can be found up to 100 miles inland, forming nearly impenetrable thickets. The plants attain heights of 5 m, and the densely thorned stem can reach 3 cm in diameter. Greenish-white flowers appear in June, producing scarlet berries in late summer. Devil's club is also referred to as Panax horridum Sm., Echinopanax horridum (Sm.) Decne. & Planch., Fatsia horrida (Sm.) Benth. & Hook. Synonyms include Echinopanax horridus and Fatsia horrida.Smith 1983, USDA 2016 This species is not to be confused with Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens).

History

This plant has a long tradition of use by the native tribes of Alaska and British Columbia for centuries and other populations in the Northwestern regions of the United States and Canada. The plant has been used internally by drinking an aqueous extract of the root or stem bark for treatment of respiratory ailments (eg, cold, cough, sore throat, chest pain, tuberculosis) and GI complaints (eg, stomach pain, ulcers, gallstones, indigestion, constipation).Bloxton 2002, Russell 1991, Smith 1983

Externally the prickly outer bark sometimes is scraped from the stem, leaving the cambium for use in the preparation of decoctions and poultices; however, others use both the cambium and stem together. Poultices were applied to sores and wounds to prevent or reduce swelling and infection. The cambium sometimes is softened by chewing prior to being placed on a cut or burn as an emergency analgesic and local antiseptic. In many cultures, the plant is believed to possess "magical" powers that impart great strength.Bloxton 2002, Russell 1991, Smith 1983

Ethnobotanic data indicate that the extracts of the inner bark appear to have antipyretic, antitussive, antibacterial, and hypoglycemic properties. The plant has been used internally to treat a variety of conditions including influenza, measles, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and rheumatism. Devil's club has been used as a purgative, emetic, and cathartic in higher doses.Bloxton 2002, McCutcheon 1995, Smith 1983

Chemistry

Four known sesquiterpenes have been identified: alpha-cubebene, trans-nerolidol, spathulenol, and oplopanone. Lignan 1,3 benzodioxole, 5,5′-tetrahydro-1H,3H-furo[3,4-c]furan-1,4-diyl)bis, stearic acid, stigmasterol, and beta-sitosterol also have been identified. Trans-nerolidol is the major constituent in the root bark. One study documents the absence of alkaloids and gallic acid, and the presence of oleic and unsaturated fatty acids, saponins, glycerides, and tannins. An ether extract of the root yielded 2 oils, equinopanacene (a sesquiterpene) and equinopanacol (a sesquiterpene alcohol). Oplopanone has antipyretic and antitussive activity. Stigmasterol and β-sitosterol are associated with antirheumatic and anticholesteremic activity.Bloxton 2002, Calway 2012, Huang 2015, Huang 2014, Huang 2014, Sun 2010, Wang 2010, Wang 2013

Uses and Pharmacology

Anti-infective activity

A recent screening of a methanol extract of the inner bark of O. horridus showed partial inhibition against the respiratory syncytial virus. Previous screenings of O. horridus extracts exhibited antimicrobial and antifungal activities. The polyynes of the plant exhibited anti-Candida activity; and, in a disk diffusion assay, antimycobacterial activity, by killing Mycobacterium tuberculosis and isoniazid-resistant Mycobacterium avium at 10 mcg/disk.Calway 2012, Kobaisy 1997, McCutcheon 1997, Qiu 2013

Cancer

Animal data

A limited pool of researchers have reported on the effect of extracts of Oplopanax horridus and related species on a range of human cancer cell lines and tumors.Jin 2014, Li 2010, McGill 2014, Meng 2015, Sun 2010, Tai 2014, Wang 2013, Zhang 2014

Hypoglycemic activity

Animal data

Several animal investigations were conducted in the 1930s and 1940s in an attempt to characterize the pharmacologic activity associated with the traditional uses of devil's club. Following reports that patients with diabetes could be managed successfully using water extracts of the root bark, animal-based investigations suggested that the extract had hypoglycemic activity in the hare and that the plant was not associated with toxicity. Further investigations were unable to verify the hypoglycemic effect in rabbits.Large1938, Piccoli 1940, Stuhr 1944

Clinical data

No pharmacologically active component could be identified in the plant. A report of a case study of two patients given extracts of the plant in conjunction with a glucose tolerance test found no hypoglycemic effects that could be attributed to devil's club.Calway 2012, Smith 1983, Stuhr 1944

Dosing

None well documented.

Pregnancy / Lactation

Use is best avoided because of lack of clinical studies. The dried roots and stalk have been reported to inhibit the effects of pregnant mare serum on the growth of the ovaries of the white rat. The ovaries of control rats weighed more than 8 times those of test animals that received the serum together with 40 mg of dried plant per dose.Graham 1955

Interactions

None well documented. Although the hypoglycemic effect has not been confirmed, the continued traditional use of this plant for the management of diabetes suggests that some individuals may be sensitive to the hypoglycemic effects of devil's club and should use the plant with caution.Calway 2012

Adverse Reactions

None well documented. The spiny covering of the stem can cause painful irritation and scratches upon contact. A case report exists of a collapsed anterior chamber consequent to ocular injury by the plant thorn.Mader 2008

Toxicology

Although no cases of significant toxicity have been reported, several points should be kept in mind regarding devil's club. The use of devil's club extract as an emetic and purgative are reflective of potential toxicity from use of the plant.

Index Terms

  • Echinopanax horridum (Sm.) Decne. & Planch.
  • Echinopanax horridus
  • Fatsia horrida
  • Fatsia horrida (Sm.) Benth. & Hook
  • Harpagophytum procumbens
  • Panax horridum Sm.

References

Bloxton J, DerMarderosian A, Gibbs R. Bioactive constituents of Alaskan devil's root (Oplopanax horridus, Araliaceae). Economic Botany. 2002;56:285-287.
Calway T, Du GJ, Wang CZ, et al. Chemical and pharmacological studies of Oplopanax horridus, a North American botanical. J Nat Med. 2012;66(2):249-256.22101399
Graham RC, Noble RL. Comparison of in vitro activity of various species of Lithospermum and other plants to inactivate gonadotrophin. Endocrinology. 1955;56(3):239.14353034
Huang WH, Shao L, Wang CZ, Yuan CS, Zhou HH. Anticancer activities of polyynes from the root bark of Oplopanax horridus and their acetylated derivatives. Molecules. 2014;19(5):6142-6162.24830715
Huang WH, Zhang QW, Wang CZ, Yuan CS, Li SP. Phenolic derivatives from the root bark of Oplopanax horridus. Helv Chim Acta. 2015;98(2):201-209.27284207
Huang WH, Zhang QW, Yuan CS, Wang CZ, Li SP, Zhou HH. Chemical constituents of the plants from the genus Oplopanax. Chem Biodivers. 2014;11(2):181-196.24591310
Jin HR, Liao Y, Li X, et al. Anticancer compound Oplopantriol A kills cancer cells through inducing ER stress and BH3 proteins Bim and Noxa. Cell Death Dis. 2014;5:e1190.24763047
Kobaisy M, Abramowski Z, Lermer L, et al. Antimycobacterial polyyenes of Devil's club (Oplopanax horridus), a North American native medicinal plant. J Nat Prod. 1997;60(11):1210-1213.9392889
Large RG, Brocklesby HN. A hypoglycemic substance from the roots of devil's club. Can Med J Assoc. 1938;39(1):32-35.20321017
Li XL, Sun S, Du GJ, et al. Effects of Oplopanax horridus on human colorectal cancer cells. Anticancer Res. 2010;30(2):295-302.20332432
Mader TH, Werner RP, Chamberlain DG. Corneal perforation and delayed anterior chamber collapse from a devil's club thorn. Cornea. 2008;27(8):961-962.18724165
McCutcheon AR, Roberts TE, Gibbons E, et al. Antiviral screening of British Columbian medicinal plants. J Ethnopharmacol. 1995;49:101-110.8847882
McCutcheon AR, Stokes R, Thorson L, Ellis S, Hancock R, Towers G. Antimycobacterial screenings of British Columbian medicinal plants. Int J Pharmacognosy. 1997;35:77-83.
McGill CM, Alba-Rodriguez EJ, Li S, et al. Extracts of Devil's club (Oplopanax horridus) exert therapeutic efficacy in experimental models of acute myeloid leukemia. Phytother Res. 2014;28(9):1308-1134.25340187
Meng LZ, Huang WH, Wang CZ, Yuan CS, Li SP. Correction: Huang, W.-H., et al. Anticancer activities of polyynes from the root bark of Oplopanax horridus and their acetylated derivatives. Molecules. 2015;20(4):5438-5439.25822082
Oplopanax horridus. USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, December 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
Piccoli LJ, Spinapolice BS, Hecht M. A pharmacologic study of devil's club root. J Am Pharm Assoc. 1940;29:11.
Qiu F, Cai G, Jaki BU, Lankin DC, Franzblau SG, Pauli GF. Quantitative purity-activity relationships of natural products: the case of anti-tuberculosis active triterpenes from Oplopanax horridus. J Nat Prod. 2013;76(3):413-419.23356207
Russell PN. English Bay and Port Graham Alutiq Plantlore. Homer, AK: Pratt Museum, 1991.
Smith GW. Arctic pharmacognosia II. Devil's club, Oplopanax horridus. J Ethnopharmacol. 1983;7:313-320.6876853
Stuhr ET, Henry FB. An investigation of the root bark of Fatsia horrida. Pharmaceutical Arch. 1944;15:9.
Sun S, Du GJ, Qi LW, Williams S, Wang CZ, Yuan CS. Hydrophobic constituents and their potential anticancer activities from Devil's Club (Oplopanax horridus Miq.). J Ethnopharmacol. 2010;132(1):280-285.20723598
Tai J, Cheung SS, Ou D, Warnock GL, Hasman D. Antiproliferation activity of Devil's club (Oplopanax horridus) and anticancer agents on human pancreatic cancer multicellular spheroids. Phytomedicine. 2014;21(4):506-514.24215675
Wang CZ, Aung HH, Mehendale SR, Shoyama Y, Yuan CS. High performance liquid chromatographic analysis and anticancer potential of Oplopanax horridus: comparison of stem and berry extracts. Fitoterapia. 2010;81(2):132-139.19686820
Wang CZ, Zhang Z, Huang WH, et al. Identification of potential anticancer compounds from Oplopanax horridus. Phytomedicine. 2013;20(11):999-1006.23746754
Zhang Z, Yu C, Zhang CF, et al. Chemopreventive effects of oplopantriol A, a novel compound isolated from Oplopanax horridus, on colorectal cancer. Nutrients. 2014;6(7):2668-2680.25045937

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