Clinical Trials of Rhodiola rosea in Tomsk in the Late Soviet Period
Rhodiola rosea is a Siberian medicinal plant possessing qualities of a central nervous system stimulant that has been traditionally used in the folk medicine of the indigenous peoples in Siberia. Between the 1960s and the 1980s, the plant had been intensively studied in the scientific laboratories of Tomsk. The study of physicochemical properties of the plant and its effects on humans was initially carried out in the Tomsk Medical Institute (TMI) by a large research
group headed by A. S. Saratikov and E. A. Krasnov. Following a series of animal studies in the early 1960s, Saratikov started to enlist human volunteers from TMI students and staff and examine the effects of the plant on concentration and auto-suggestion. These trials were later expanded, and a number of medical institutions in Tomsk incorporated them into their research programs, seemingly hailing Rhodiola rosea as a potential all-curing miracle drug for the overworked and stressed modern self. (Interestingly enough, there has recently been a renewed interest in the plant in the West that has corroborated a number of Soviet findings). At the same time, research into the history of Rhodiola rosea trials also highlights both numerous ethically problematic issues in the treatment of research participants as well as unexpected divergences from the officially prescribed Soviet clinical trials practices. Using examples from a large number of published scientific studies and corroborating them with materials from oral history interviews with researchers and study participants, this paper explores the local idiosyncrasies that shaped Soviet clinical trials on the ground.