I HAVE often been asked to explain what is meant by homoeopathy and why I practise homoeopathy. I practise it because, trained in the same medical schools as the rest of our professional brethren, some of us have stumbled up against homoeopathy, and, struck by its extraordinary reasonableness, have put it to the test, to find yet additional power in the treatment of disease. Before now, doctors have set out to disprove the doctrines of Hahnemann–only to become their most devoted exponents. As Bier, the great German surgeon, says in a pamphlet that profoundly stirred medical thought in that country: “Had I started on these studies thirty years sooner, I should have been spared a great many errors and detours.”
Homoeopathy is a system of therapeutics, founded on a definite law–Similia similibus curantur (Let likes be treated by likes). Medicine is concerned with the action of drugs and with the symptoms of disease: the problem being, how to apply the one for the relief of the other. It was Hahnemann who bridged the gulf with his Law of Similars. He says:
“It is only by their symptoms that disease can express their need of help.”
“The morbid disturbances called forth by drugs in the healthy body must be accepted as the only possible revelation of their inherent curative power.”
“Drugs manifest no other curative power, except their tendency to produce morbid symptoms in healthy persons, and to remove them from the sick.”
“In order to cure gently, quickly, unfailingly and permanently, select for every case of disease a medicine capable of calling forth by itself an affection similar to that which it is intended to cure.”
Homoeopathy, then, means matching the disease picture of a sick person with some previously ascertained drug-disease picture, which drug is administered in dose only sufficient to initiate vital reaction, or, as Hahnemann puts it, “In doses so fine as to be just sufficient, without causing pain or debility, to obliterate the natural disease, through the reaction of the vital energy.”
To his contemporaries these statements of Hahnemann seemed paradoxical to the verge of insanity; but the century that has passed has so changed the general conceptions of medicine as to bring it into line with Hahnemann. For instance, according to the Arndt-Schultz law, small drug doses stimulate cell activity, larger doses hinder it, still larger destroy it. This has been recently demonstrated in a beautiful manner by Sir Jagadis Bose. According to Schultz, when drugs are administered to healthy persons the symptoms they elicit are a revelation as to the cells and tissues they affect. Drugs that derange, damage or destroy certain cells in medium to large doses will stimulate the same cells if given in small doses. Disease symptoms are the expression of disordered cell and tissue activity, and their symptoms indicate the cells in need of stimulation. The ideal remedy will be the one which has produced similar symptoms on the healthy, so proving its power over precisely those cells affected by disease. On them, in minimal dose, it will act as a stimulus. And, as disease has made those particular cells abnormally sensitive, the stimulating dose must be very small indeed.
Before discussing homoeopathy, a brief word about its discovered. Samuel Hahnemann was one of the great geniuses and patient investigators of the world. He was born in Saxony in 1755. At 12 years of age he was teaching Greek to a class at school. In medicine, hygiene, treatment of insanity, chemistry and metallurgy he was far ahead of his time. He is referred to by contemporaries as “this great analytical chemist” (Bradford), and chemistry still uses tests he worked out; and medicine, inter alia, owes him its black oxide of mercury. Of him that greatest of chemists, Berzelius, said : “That man would have made a great chemist, had he not turned out a great quack.” In many ways he was twentieth-century. His “Materia Medica Pura” (1811) has infinitely more appeal for us than for the generation for which it was written. It was the result of twenty years’ investigation and experience. His “Organon of the Art of Healing” (1810), in the words of an eminent bacteriologist, is the most up-to-date textbook on vaccine therapy. “Science.” he says, “is now proving Hahnemann in detail… and to him should fall all the honour of having anticipated science by more than a century.” At one period he renounced medicine, that he “might no longer incur the risk of doing injury, and engaged exclusively in chemistry and in literary occupations.” This could not last, for Hahnemann was, above all, the physician. And so, in his extraordinary way, he resolved to investigate the whole question of medicine – in all languages. He set his soul to discover “If God had not indeed given some certain Law by which the disease of mankind could be cured.” To this patient genius, the Law, in time, revealed itself; and to the education of that Law he devoted his long life.
He says, in regard to his fundamental Law of Similars : “There have been physicians who had presentiments that medicines, by their power of producing analogous morbid symptoms, could cure analogous morbid conditions.” And he quotes “the author of one of the books ascribed to Hippocrates,” as well as sentences culled from half a dozen physicians of later times. But it was quinine that revealed the secret: “In 1790 I made the first pure trial with cinchona bark upon myself, in reference to its power of exciting intermittent fever. With this first trial broke on me the dawn that has brightened into the most brilliant day of the medical art: that it is only in virtue of their power to make the healthy human being ill that medicines can cure morbid states, and, indeed, only such morbid states as are composed of the symptoms which the drug selected for them can itself produce in similarity on the healthy.”
An experience with belladonna carried him a step farther. In a house full of scarlet fever one child escaped – a child he was treating with belladonna. He knew that belladonna poisonings and scarlet fever present almost identical symptoms – dry, burning skin and throat, scarlet eruption, dilated pupils and throbbing headache. And homoeopaths since his day have used belladonna as he thereafter used it, as prophylactic and remedy for scarlet fever, with a minimal mortality. Men who have worked through epidemics say that they never remember seeing the complications and sequelae of scarlet fever in cases treated with belladonna. One of them has gone so far as to say: “Either I don’t notify, or I don’t give belladonna; the cases clear up so quickly that one gets into difficulties.
Once convinced of his premises, Hahnemann began “proving” drugs, i.e. testing their effects on “healthy but sensitive and susceptible human beings,” and recording the symptoms they evoked, in order to use them “with confidence” in the treatment to the sick. His list of fellow-provers amounted to fifty – most of them medical men. Care was taken not only to elicit and record exact results, but to rule out errors. A prover would record his sensations when taking unmedicated powders and did not know when medicated powders were substituted, so that personal symptoms, unnoticed till his attention was focused upon them, might be eliminated. All Hahnemann’s work was thoughtful, painstaking to the last degree, and purely scientific. “A Materia Medica,” he said, “should exclude every supposition, every mere assertion and fiction. Its entire contents should be the pure language of Nature, uttered in response to careful and faithful inquiry.” Of such pure drug-provings the vast homoeopathic Materia Medica is composed. In Allen’s ten big volumes, “Encyclopaedia of Pure Materia Medica,” every symptom, whether of proving or poisoning, is marked with a number which refers not only to the authority but, where possible, to the exact dose responsible.
Occasionally a drug-disease presents an almost precise disease-picture, when that drug is practically specific: as belladonna for scarlet fever, mercury for syphilis, rhus for erysipelas, cyanide of mercury for diphtheria, latrodectus mactans for angina pectoris, corrosive sublimate for dysentery. But diseases do not affect all persons in precisely the same way, and the actual symptoms of the sick person have to be matched to get results. Single cases of scarlet fever will take on the malignant form, to which ailanthus better corresponds; and single cases of diphtheria may be without the mercury tongue and foetor, when lachesis or lycopodium may be better indicated.
During some fifty years Hahnemann was poisoning himself, his pupils, and his friends with remedies known and unknown, or known only to the ancients or the Arabians, in order to determine their exact, and especially their peculiar effects, physical, mental and moral. He proved one hundred medicines upon himself. He wrote upwards of seventy original works on chemistry and medicine, besides his twenty-four important translations, which he embellished with much learned and original matter. Yet he lived to be 88 and died in full possession of his intellect and faculties. For forty years, we are told, it was his custom to sit up the whole of one night out of every four, working, translating, studying, writing in that fine, minute hand, beautiful and painstaking to the last.
As a result of his careful prolonged investigations and experiments, Hahnemann taught the following:
(1) The administration of only “like” remedies:
“A drug can only cure in virtue of its symptoms being similar to those of the case of disease; and here it could not fail to cure, in accordance with the eternal homoeopathic law of Nature.”
(2) The single drug: Without which no scientific data on drug-action or estimate of curative drug-action can be determined.
(3) The single dose: Repeated only in response to the demand of symptoms: i.e. in minutes to hours in acute and urgent conditions; but only in weeks to months in chronic diseases of slow peace.
(4) Initial homoeopathic aggravation : Now generally recognized – but only where such homoeopathic remedies as vaccines have been used – as Wright’s “negative phase.” This homoeopathic aggravation Hahnemann explains as the reaction of the vital force to the artificial similar drug disease “called forth in the diseased parts of the body by an excessive dose,” diseased parts being hypersensitive to “like” drug action. With him it is “quite in order” and of good prognosis “if excited within proper limits.” Therefore,-
“The doses of the homoeopathic medicines are invariably to be reduced so far that, after they have been taken, they will merely produce an almost imperceptible homoeopathic aggravation.” And he says: “The doses of reduced, provided that the dose, immediately after being taken, is capable of causing a slight intensification of symptoms of the similar natural disease.”
(5) Non-interference with vital reaction : The necessity for waiting till the aggravation and the subsequent stage of amelioration is spent, before repeating the stimulus. This – in consequence of Wright’s work – is becoming generally recognized.
(6) Potentization : Which “causes medicines to penetrate the organism, and thus become more efficacious and remedial.”
It will be observed that the small doses of homoeopathy are no mere fad on the part of Hahnemann and his followers. They are necessitated for the avoidance of the severe aggravation where a homoeopathic remedy – that is, the remedy to which the patient is supremely sensitive – is administered. Hahnemann says : “They produce the uncommon effects they do because they are not so large as to render it necessary for the organism to get rid of them by the revolutionary processes of evacuation:’ and also because “The diseased parts of the body have become extremely susceptible of a stimulus so similar to their own disease.” Again, where homoeopathy makes use of such remedies as snake poisons, the virus of diseases, and the deadly poisons that have always formed such an important part of our equipment, doses must be reduced. Ordinary textbooks are concerned with the maximum dose that may be given without danger; homoeopathy only with the minimum dose that will supply the stimulus and start vital reaction. It is on vital reaction that the whole of Hahnemann’s teaching and homoeopathic experience are based.
By grinding down insoluble substances until they could be used as remedial agents, and in reducing his “like” medicines till aggravation became negligible, Hahnemann stumbled upon “potentization.” Hahnemann claimed to be the first to make “This great and extraordinary discovery, that the properties of crude medicinal substances gain (when fluid by repeated succussion with unmedicinal fluids, when dry by frequent trituration with unmedicinal powders) such as increase of medicinal power, that when these processes are carried very far, even substances in which for centuries no medicinal power has been observed in their crude state display under such manipulation a power of acting on the health of man that is quite astonishing.”
“Thus, pure gold, silver, platina, have no action on human health in their solid state – or crude vegetable charcoal, etc…. These substances are in a state of suspended animation as regards their medicinal action. But triturate one grain of gold leaf with 100 grains of sugar of milk, and a preparation results which has already great medicinal power.” And by repeating this process again and again, “till the last preparation contains in every grain a quadrillionth of a grain of gold, it gives a medicine in which the medicinal power, latent and locked up in gold in its massive state, are so strikingly roused into activity” that a single dose will “change a miserable melancholic loathing life and contemplating suicide, into cheerfulness and renewed love of life.”
“Medicinal substances are not deal masses in the ordinary sense of the term; their true essential nature is only dynamically spiritual – is pure force, which may be increased in potency almost to an infinite degree by that very remarkable process of trituration (and succussion) according to the homoeopathic method.”
(It is with 30 small phials that Hahnemann’s favourite “decillionth or 30th potency” is prepared. One drop from the strong tincture in No. 1 phial is shaken up with 99 drops of alcohol or water in No.2 and a drop from this, in the same way, in No. 3: and so on for 30 times to make the 30th centesimal potency.)
“Physical sciences teach that there are great forces (potencies) which are entirely imponderable, like light and heat. If only ponderables were real and imponderables unreal, then one of these seemingly insignificant doses would be, at worst, without effect. There is no agent, no power in Nature capable of morbidly affecting the healthy individual, which dose not at the same time possess the faculty of curing certain morbid states.”
Were Hahnemann alive in this age, to which he belongs, he would find confirmation in the pathological and therapeutic effects of X-rays and radium – “imponderables” – and, by their antagonistically malign and benign actions, perfectly exemplifying his Law. The chemistry of our day is more and more approaching Hahnemann, with its colloids and ions, its ferments and vitamins. The infinitely little is becoming the infinitely potent, and bulk and energy of particle are seen to be in inverse ration. For infinite subdivision we may yet come to substitute Hahnemann’s “dynamization” or “potentization.” Chemistry has now its colloidal gold, silica, etc.; and while homoeopathy warns us to be cautious with potentized silica for its power of breaking down scar tissue and liberating tubercle, non-homoeopaths have demonstrated the power of silica to produce fibrosis of liver, kidneys, etc. Thus in Hahnemann every day finding confirmation.
Hahnemann, a hundred years ago, was already using products of disease for the cure of disease, and arguing that this was not isopathy but homoeopathy: “Isopathy is to cure an equal disease by an equal miasm. The cure in that case could only be accomplished by opposing a similimum to a similimum, since isopathy administers only a potentiated and altered miasm to a patient.” One of Hahnemann’s valuable legacies is “psorinum” prepared from an itch pustule: “The psoric virus, by undergoing a process of trituration and shaking, becomes just as much altered in its nature as gold dose,” and “a powerfully acting agent.” And from Hahnemann’s day on, homoeopaths have been using disease products for the cure of disease. The year 1831 gave us hydrophobinum (“lyssin”) and variolinum (from smallpox); 1836, anthracinum (from anthrax); 1880, syphilinum (“lueticum”), gonorrhinum (“medorrhinum”), bacillinum (“tuberculinum”). Burnett wrote in 1894: “There are but few (disease) viruses known to science that I have not used as therapeutic agents.” That “nosodes” or disease products do act in homoeopathic preparations and potencies, administered by the mouth, is a matter of daily experience with us. And the explanation of the fact that they do not get fatally changed during absorption may be that other fact, which Hahnemann demonstrated – namely, that substances highly potentized have laws of their own and are not subject to chemical neutralization.
Before an acute disease can be diagnosed, the remedy can often be selected, which is an immense advantage in shortening and modifying sickness. A disease expresses itself by symptoms; and where there are symptoms they can be matched and the “similar” drug administered without waste of time. Hahnemann, never having seen cholera, laid down the remedies that would be curative in that disease, the main ones being three: in early and simple cases, camphor (the strong tincture, one drop on sugar repeated every few minutes till reaction); in later stages, with excessive cramping, cuprum; or, with excessive evacuations and profuse cold sweat, veratrum alb. Cholera came to Europe, and the statistics of all countries where there were homoeopathic physicians proved Hahnemann to the hilt. In Austria, the law interdicting the practice of homoeopathy was repealed in consequence of its starting success in the treatment of cholera. In England, in 1854 (according to a Report to the House of Commons), the mortality of cholera under ordinary treatment was 59.2 per cent., the homoeopathic mortality being 16.4. And to this day the spirits of camphor of the chemists bear Rubini’s name – Dr. Rubini, of Naples, being a homoeopath who achieved amazing results in Italy during that cholera epidemic.
Hahnemann looked for his vindication to posterity: and repetition of the doses will be doubted for years, even by the greater number of homoeopathic physicians….. I do not comprehend it, but facts speak for themselves. The truth of my proposition is demonstrated by experience, in which I have more faith than in my intelligence.” “Is not truth eternal though it may have been discovered only an hour ago?… Was there ever a discovery or a truth that was not at first novel?” “It would be foolish to refuse to learn to write because we cannot understand how thought can be embodied in written words.” “Does the physician risk anything by imitating a method which I have adopted from long experience and observation?”
“This doctrine appeals solely to the verdict of experience. `Repeat the experiments,’ it cries aloud, `repeat them carefully and accurately, and you will find the doctrine confirmed at every step’; and it does what no medical doctrine, no system of physic, no so-called therapeutics ever did or could do – it insists upon being judged by results.”
The quotations in this article are from Hahnemann’s “Materia Medica Pura,” “Organon” (Wesselhoeft’s translation), and “Chronic Diseases.” I am indebted also to the biographies of Hahnemann by Bradford and by Haehl, and to Professor Bier’s “What shall be Our Attitude towards Homoeopathy?”.