Artefacts: Homeopathic History

Surviving the opposition of the establishment, by Ralph Tapping

Eighteenth century German physician Samuel Hahnemann ( 1755-1843 ) first coined the word “homeopathy” ( “homeos” in Greek means “similar” and “pathos” means “suffering”) to refer to the law of similarities that is its basis.  That is, “The treatment of diseases by substances which produce similar symptoms in the healthy body”. 

Hahnemann spent many years experimenting on himself and his family and a small group of followers and concluded that small doses of various medicines were effective in a number of conditions.

“Coincidentally, in 1798 Edward Jenner discovered the value of giving small doses of cowpox in an effort to immunise against smallpox.  Whereas Jenner’s work was generally accepted by orthodox medicine, Hahnemann’s was not”.

There was much antagonism to homeopathy by the establishment, but it increased in popularity because orthodox medicine as practised at the time frequently caused more harm than good.  Purging, bloodletting and use of leeches was common, as were medicines made from Mercury, Lead, Arsenic and various strong herbs in attempt to help purge the body of disease.

Historians today consider much of the medicine of the 18th and 19th century was unscientific and even barbaric, and yet orthodox physicians had the audacity to call homeopathy “quackery”.

Despite the significant oppression, homeopathy survived and thrived.  By 1900 there were 22 homeopathic medical schools, more than 100 homeopathic hospitals and over 1000 homeopathic pharmacies in the United States alone.  It is worthy of note that in homeopathic hospitals the death rate was much less than in conventional hospitals, so it was no wonder that homeopathy became more popular.

Having commenced my career in pharmacy in 1956 as an apprentice in a pharmacy that handled homeopathic remedies, I had some experience with their use.  In those days the “mother tincture” , usually of vegetable origin, was diluted 1x ( one in ten ), 2x ( one in 100 ) or 3x ( one in 1000 ).  These were common dilutions.  Doses were either liquid ( 5 drops )… powder…as much as would fit on a threepenny piece ( which was 15mm in diameter ), or in pilules.

Some of the remedies were reported to be quite effective, although the placebo effect must have a played a part and in the case of very high dilutions very much more so.

In Australian society homeopathy had quite a following and although many preparations were originally compounded on the premises, increasingly wholesale manufacturers supplied the preparations to pharmacies.

In more recent times homeopathy has gone to extremes, in that many of the dilutions are in the hundreds of thousands and even millions, which stretches logic beyond where there could be even one molecule of active ingredient in the whole bottle.  In my view, the placebo effect could be the only possibility.  Several clinical trials in recent times have shown this to be the case. Nevertheless, the use of homeopathy remains popular world-wide as an alternative therapy.

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