The Safer Medicine
by Doug Campbell, RPh.
Homeopathy is a therapeutic method of medicine in which very dilute doses of natural active substances (plant, animal, or mineral origins) are administered to a patient to treat symptoms that would be induced in a healthy individual by ingestion of that same substance.
Homeopathy is an approach to health that is quite different from methods that are seen in the pharmacy everyday. Conventional medicine attempts to restore health by killing invading organisms, replacing hormones or enzymes, or interfering with disease processes. Calcium blockers are an example. Homeopathy stimulates the body’s own defenses to correct illness and allow symptoms to dissipate. The minute dose of drug substance used in homeopathy does not cause any of the side effects that have become such a problem for the physician, pharmacist and patient.
Homeopathic medicines are different from herbal products. In addition to conventional drugs, homeopathic drug products are the only other form of official and regulated medicine in the United States. Homeopathic medicines are now receiving a much higher level of consumer interest. As patients explore alternative medical methods, pharmacists are asked to comment about natural and homeopathic drug products. They are also asked common questions about effectiveness, reliability, possible interactions with other medications, or how they are regulated or approved.
The principles of Homeopathy were known and employed five hundred years before the birth of Christ by the Greek physician Hippocrates. This dosage-dependent, contradictory action of medically active substances was not to become universally known until it was rediscovered by Samuel Hahnemann, M.D., a German physician, in the 18th century.
Dr. Hahnemann, distressed by the barbaric medical methods of his day like bleeding, purging, and the use of leeches, chose to leave the practice of medicine and supported his family by translating medical, scientific, and botanical books. It was during this period that he uncovered the ancient “Principle of Similars.” Hahnemann’s first application of this newly-found principle were his observation of the toxicologic effects of cinchona bark, which was then being used to treat malaria. The bark often produced attacks of fever very much like the malaria fever. When tiny doses of the homeopathic cinchona were administered to the malaria-infected patients, the malaria fevers were reduced. From his own observations, Hahnemann deduced that infinitesimal doses of medicinal substances were capable of curing symptoms similar to those which they could produce. He named his discovery “The Principle of Similars”.
After his discovery, Hahnemann spent the rest of his years developing and cataloging the relationship between disease and conditions (symptoms) and the toxic effects of natural, medically-active substances. Administration of crude quantities of these substances to a healthy individual with the intention of developing a symptom picture is called a “proving.” Clinically, an individual who has a disease displays a certain group of symptoms, which can be identified with the same symptom-complex that has been developed and catalogued in the health volunteer proving group. Clinically, the substance that produces the same symptom complex during the proving which the patient is currently exhibiting in their illness is the remedy prescribed by the physician.
The most common example offered to explain this “Principle of Similars” is Ipecac. A large dose of Ipecac is given to a healthy individual to induce vomiting. However, a patient suffering from nausea and vomiting improves when a homeopathic dose of Ipecac is administered.
The “Principle of Similars” of Homeopathy may be summarized as:
- Every pharmacologically active substance produces symptoms in a healthy, sensitive individual which are characteristic of that substance.
- Each disease has a characteristic set of symptoms.
- An illness can be cured by administering to a patient a small, homeopathically prepared dose of the same substance which, during a proving, produced symptoms similar to the illness in healthy individuals.
Today there are over 2,000 substances catalogued that describe symptom pictures of the most common conditions like allergies, colds, flu, and bruises. According to The New England Journal of Medicine (1993) approximately 2.5 million Americans, one percent of the U.S. population, used Homeopathy in 1990 – an indication that it has become a growing part of American health care. Homeopathy is truly a safer medicine – because it has no harmful side effects!
Originally presented in Baltimore Resource Journal, Vol 9, No. 2, Summer 1995, Baltimore Maryland. Doug Campbell, RPh,
is a registered and homeopathic pharmacist and owner of the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy in Towson, MD.