A dire warning comes in an Oscar winner's narration. Kevin Spacey is the Amazon rainforest.

A dire warning.

The rainforest is helping us all right now.

In addition to providing immense beauty and wonder, the Amazon rainforest absorbs more carbon dioxide than other types of ecosystems. How much?

It absorbs about 20% of human-made, carbon-based greenhouse gases.



But it's also 20% gone.

Unfortunately, groups such as the World Nature Organization estimate that 20% of the Amazon has already been destroyed in the past 40 years to make way for civilization, to take its wood, or for other nefarious purposes.

But there are still things we could be finding in this huge and amazing forest.

Besides more clean air, what's being lost in that 20%? Medicinal treasures!

The Amazon is vast and contains things that humans have benefited from so much. And we haven't explored MOST of the Amazon yet. An average patch of rainforest measuring just four square miles holds hundreds of species of plants and trees, some of which haven't even been classified yet. Those undiscovered plants potentially hold keys to curing our ills and managing our pain.

Here are three examples of medicines we've been lucky to find (so far):

1. Cocaine (yes, cocaine) from the coca plant

This plant has led the world to a very important type of medicine. Most well-known for providing the world with cocaine, the coca plant is responsible for many of the world's ills. But it has also provided some real benefits.

Cocaine was an early form of anesthesia. Without it, we wouldn't have known how anesthesia was supposed to work on the body. Synthetically derived forms of it, such as novocaine, are still used today to numb your mouth while your dentist does horrible things to your gums.

2. Tubocurarine from climbing vines

I have a doozy of a plant name for you: Chondrodendron tomentosum.

Don't even try to pronounce it — it's OK.

This poisonous climbing vine was discovered in the Amazon being used primarily as a poison to put in darts (!!) before it was used as one of the first forms of anesthesia used during medical procedures. Even though it isn't used today, the chemical derived from these plants, tubocurarine, was one of the stepping stones that led to modern, safer forms of anesthesia.

If it weren't for this plant, humans might still be biting a belt and hoping that their surgery would be over soon.

3. Diosgenin from wild yams

Here's another weird one: Dioscorea nipponica.

That's the name for a genus of wild yam native to South America. From that plant you can extract diosgenin, which was used in the development of steroid hormones like progesterone. Without it, we might not have developed birth control pills.

The Amazon can't really speak for itself, so just think: Do we really want to destroy it before we find out what else it has to offer?

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Unilever and the United Nations
Courtesy of Houseplant.

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