What is homoeopathy?
Homoeopathy is a system of alternative medicine originated in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann, based on his doctrine of similar similibus curentur (“like cures like”), according to which a substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people will cure similar symptoms in sick people.
Homeopathic remedies are prepared by repeatedly diluting a chosen substance in alcohol or distilled water, followed by forceful striking on an elastic body, called succession. Each dilution followed by succession is said to increase the remedy’s potency. Dilution usually continues well past the point where none of the original substance remains. Homeopaths select remedies by consulting reference known as repertories, considering the totality of the patient’s symptoms as well as the patient’s personal traits, physical and psychological state, and life history.
The Creator ‘Hahnemann’s’ concept
Sir Hahnemann conceived of homeopathy while translating a medical treatise by Scottish physician and chemist William Cullen into German. Being skeptical of Cullen’s theory concerning cinchona’s action in intermittent fever, Hahnemann ingested some of the bark specifically to see if it cured fever “by virtue of its effect of strengthening the stomach”. Upon ingesting the bark, he noticed few stomach symptoms, but did experience fever, shivering and joint pain, symptoms similar to some of the early symptoms of intermittent fever, the disease that the bark was ordinarily used to treat. From this, Hahnemann came to believe that all effective drugs produce symptoms in healthy individuals similar to those of the diseases that they treat. This later became known as the “law of similar”, the most important concept of homeopathy. The term “homeopathy” was coined by Hahnemann and first appeared in print in 1807, although he began
outlining his theories of “medical similar” or the “doctrine of specifics” in a series of articles and monographs in 1796.
Hahnemann began to test what effects substances produced in humans, a procedure that would later become known as “homeopathic proving”.These time-consuming tests required subjects to clearly record all of their symptoms as well as the ancillary conditions under which they appeared. Hahnemann saw these data as a way of identifying substances suitable for the treatment of particular diseases. The first collection of provings was published in 1805 and a second collection of 65 remedies appeared in his book, Materia Medica Pura, in 1810. Hahnemann believed that large doses of drugs that caused similar symptoms would only aggravate illness, so he advocated extreme dilutions of the substances; he devised a technique for making dilutions that he believed would preserve a substance’s therapeutic properties while removing its harmful effects, proposing that this process aroused and enhanced “the spirit-like medicinal powers of the crude substances”. He gathered and published a complete overview of his new medical system in his 1810 book, The Organon of the Healing Art, whose 6th edition, published in 1921, is still used by homeopaths today.
19th century: rise to popularity
Homeopathy achieved its greatest popularity in the 19th century. Dr. John Franklin Gray (1804–1882) was the first practitioner of homeopathy in the United States, beginning in 1828 in New York City. The first homeopathic schools opened in 1830, and throughout the 19th century dozens of homeopathic institutions appeared in Europe and the United States. By 1900, there were 22 homeopathic colleges and 15,000 practitioners alone in the United States. Because medical practice of the time relied on ineffective and often dangerous treatments, patients of homeopaths often had better outcomes than those of the doctors of the time. Homeopathic remedies, even if ineffective, would almost surely cause no harm, making the users of homeopathic remedies less likely to be killed by the treatment that was supposed to be helping them. The relative success of homeopathy in the 19th century may have led to the abandonment of the ineffective and harmful treatments of bloodletting and purging and to have begun the move towards more effective, science-based medicine. One reason for the growing popularity of homeopathy was its apparent success in treating people suffering from infectious disease epidemics. During 19th century epidemics of diseases such as cholera, death rates in homeopathic hospitals were often lower than in conventional hospitals, where the treatments used at the time were often harmful and did little or nothing to combat the diseases.
Revival in the late 20th century
Regulation and prevalence of homeopathy
The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (sponsored by Royal Copeland, a United States Senator from New York and homeopathic physician) recognized homeopathic remedies as drugs. By the 1950s, there were only 75 pure homeopaths practicing in the U.S. However, in the mid to late 1970s, homeopathy made a significant comeback and sales of some homeopathic companies increased tenfold. Greek homeopath George Vithoulkas performed a “great deal of research to update the scenarios and refine the theories and practice of homeopathy” beginning in the 1970s, and it was revived worldwide; in Brazil during the 1970s and in Germany during the 1980s. The medical profession started to integrate such ideas in the 1990s and mainstream pharmacy chains recognized the business potential of selling homeopathic remedies.