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A history of homeopathy

Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) was a medical doctor, writer, translator, chemist and botanist and these skills intermingled with his life circumstances to create the rich soil from which homeopathy blossomed.

He abandoned the medical practices of the time, which included blood-letting with leeches, purging and the use of enemas. These practices were not based on empirical knowledge and more often than not made the patient worse. He therefore turned to translation as a means of earning an income. Translating Cullen’s Materia Medica became the impetus that propelled Hahnemann into an experiment that would change medicine. 

At the time, quinine was obtained from the Cinchona bark and was effective (and still is) in treating malaria. Cullen proposed that this was due to the bark’s astringent qualities that had a tonic effect on the stomach. But because of Hahnemann’s background in botany, he found this logic unscientific, as there were many astringent tonics which did not have any effect in treating malaria. In true scientific form, he dosed himself with Cinchona to observe the effects. This induced a case of “pseudo” malaria which passed when the herb was discontinued and reappeared when it was re-administered.

This drug that we know is effective in the treatment of malaria, did not bring about a speeding up the slow pulse, a reduction in the high fever or create arousal to combat drowsiness associated with the disease. Instead, the very opposite occurred and reoccurred with every new dose taken: fever, thirst, drowsiness and muscle aches-the same symptoms of malaria. Hahnemann reasoned that the bark cured malaria because it produced similar symptoms of the disease when administered to a healthy person. This led to the fundamental law of homeopathy: The Law of Similars.

Hahnemann therefore concluded that whatever a substance can cause, it can also cure. In order to discover what other substances could cause/cure, provings (experiments) were conducted


The first proving, mentioned above, was accidental. After that, Hahnemann and his inner circle of doctors began to experiment with different substances, starting with ones that were the mainstay of allopathic treatment of the day: mercury, camphor, sulphur, which had a wealth of toxicological data. The provers were the first guinea pigs and were required to be “pure” (no smoking, drinking, or even spices) and had to be meticulous note-takers of their health. Any deviation from the prover’s normal state was considered a symptom that the remedy had elicited and possible confounding variables were excluded.

What emerged was a “drug picture” which represented the syndrome of symptoms (including mental symptoms) which a specific substance was found to cure. Of course, different people, with different dispositions, genetics and environments produced different symptoms. The symptoms that were elicited repeatedly were considered the “key notes” of the remedy and those that were the most striking, unusual, strange or idiosyncratic were the most important.

Hahnemann’s experimentation with more substances, some of which were toxic and produced harsh reactions, led to the second law of homeopathy of dilution and succession. He introduced this idea through his attempts to reduce the toxicity of the poisonous substances’ side effects. His aim was to reach the dose that was large enough to cause an effect yet small enough to minimise any toxic side effects. This principle is known as the Minimum Dose.

Hahnemann discovered that by serial dilution, the medicine’s curative properties were enhanced and all the poisonous and undesirable side effects were lost. 

Homeopathic remedies are prescribed on an individual basis by studying the whole person. It takes into account the individual and how the person reactions to the environment:  physically, mentally and emotionally. Although there are many remedies that can cure a particular symptom (for example, cough, eczema, rheumatic pains, bladder infections) without the context of the person’s broader health, a correct remedy cannot be reliably selected.

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