Samuel Hahnemann was a German physician who
earned his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1779. At the time of his
graduation, Scientific advances were beginning to be seen in the fields of
chemistry, physics, physiology and anatomy. The clinical practice of
medicine, however, was rife with superstition and lack of scientific
rigor. The treatments of the day, such as purgatives, bleeding,
blistering plasters, herbal preparations and emetics lacked a
rational basis and were more harmful than effective. Hahnemann
recognized this and wrote critically of current
practices in several papers on topics such as Arsenic poisoning, hygiene,
dietetics and psychiatric treatment.
While translating William Cullen's A treatise of the materia medica into
German, Hahnemann was struck by a passage that deal with cinchona
which was used to treat malaria. Cullen described its mechanism of
action as a function of its stomach-strengthening properties.
Hahnemann did not accept this explanation and took "four good drams
of Peruvian bark, twice a day for several days" to attempt to
characterize the action of the quinine-containing bark. Hahnemann
reported that he began to develop symptoms identical to those of
malaria. He concluded from this experience that
effective drugs must produce symptoms in healthy people that are similar
to the diseases they will be expected to treat. Today this
principal is known as the "Law of Similars" and is the basis for
the use of the term homeopathy ("similar suffering").
Hahnemann and colleagues began to test various substances to determine
the types of symptoms they produced. These results suggested to
Hahnemann what the drugs would be useful to treat. Hahnemann
reasoned that doses of these substances that produced overt symptoms would
be inappropriate for treatment of diseases with the same symptoms.
Thus he advocated reduction of the dose to infinitesimal levels by
multiple serial dilutions of ten or hundred fold . Soluble
compounds or liquids were diluted in alcohol; insoluble materials were
serially diluted by grinding with lactose. (more specific
descriptions of his reasoning can be found in the "philosophical
basis" section. He compiled his results into a treatise
called the "Organon
of rational therapeutics" which he first published in 1810.
The sixth edition, published in 1921, is still used today as homeopathy's
basic text. Hahnemann practiced Homeopathic medicine for almost 50
years until his death in 1843
Homeopathy had a large impact on the practice of medicine. The
first homeopathic hospital opened in 1832 and homeopathic medical schools
opened all over Europe. Homeopathic hospitals and practitioners
often had better outcomes compared to their allopathic counterparts.
These improved outcomes were undoubtedly due to the harmful nature of
allopathic remedies of the time compared to the non-toxic nature of
homeopathic remedies. Thus the general public began to tout the
benefits of homeopathy and demand better treatment from all
Allopathic medicine began to develop rational approaches to the study
of disease, partially due to the competition offered by homeopathy and
began to make significant gains by the end of the 19th century. By
the early part of the twentieth century, homeopathy was in serious
decline. The last pure homeopathic medical school in the U.S. closed
in 1920, although Hahnemann Medical School in Philadelphia continued to
offer homeopathic electives until the 1940's. Homeopathy began to
enjoy a resurgence in the US in the 1970's as the public took a greater
interest in holistic and natural approaches to medicine.