Actions of Medicines


Most medicines have more than one action; the first a direct action, which gradually changes into the second, which I call the indirect secondary action. The latter is generally a state exactly the opposite of the former….


Hahnemann’s early notions on primary and secondary actions-He says some medicines have only a primary action-The importance he attached to distinguishing between primary and secondary actions- On it he founds his division of medicine into curative and palliative-Latterly he ascribes the primary action chiefly to the influence of the medicines, the secondary chiefly to the reaction of the vital force-Examples of the two actions-Secondary actions not noticed after small dose, or even after moderate doses on the healthy-Examples from the Materia Medica of primary and secondary actions-These two actions rarer in the later editions-Afterwards termed alternating actions-Finally not distinguished by a special appellation-Hahnemann seems practically to have abandoned the distinction-Hahnemann’s self- contradictions-His alternating action-Examples of it-Probable reasons for the adoption of the term-Hering combats the notion of primary and secondary actions- Piper disapproves of the distinction-Helbig rejects it-Watzke ideas on the subject- Attomyr’s notions directly opposed to Hahnemann’s Kurtz rejects the division-Trinks does the same-Schron would retain the division and use it to prune the Materia Medica-Arnold dissents from Hahnemann-Hirschel agrees partially with Hahnemann-Drysdale accepts Hahnemann’s division-Gerstel proposes the division into active and positive and negative symptoms-Griesselich repudiates Hahnemann’s division-The division into primary and secondary untenable-Hahnemann’s original notions had a bad influence on his mode of recording symptoms-Faults of the Hahnemannie schema- Example of a complete picture of a medicinal disease-Hahnemann’s Materia Medica is little more than an index- Reductio ad absurdum of the primary, secondary, and alternating actions-Great preponderance of subjective symptoms in the Materia Medica- Hahnemann’s provings fall short of his original standard-We ought to strive to bring them up to this standard-Notwithstanding all faults, Hahnemann’s Materia Medica is a wonderful work-His earlier provings are especially valuable.


Primary Secondary Alternating actions of medicines

HAVING in my last lecture endeavoured to explain to you how we ought to interrogate the organism in reference to the pathogenetic powers of drugs, I shall now attempt to ascertain the exact signification of the answers we receive.

And first let us hear what Hahnemann says on this subject. In his first essay to often alluded to he has the following (Lesser Writings, p. 312):-

“Most medicines have more than one action; the first a direct action, which gradually changes into the second, which I call the indirect secondary action. The latter is generally a state exactly the opposite of the former. In this way most vegetable substances act.” As an example of these two actions he instance the effects of opium, which, in its primary direct action, causes a fearless elevation of spirit, a sensation of strength and courage, and imaginative gaiety; but in its secondary indirect action, which occurs from eight to twelve hours afterwards, there ensue relaxation, dejection, diffidence, peevishness, loss of memory, discomfort, fearfulness.

“A few medicines are exceptions to this rule, continuing their primary action uninterruptedly of the same kind, though always diminishing in degree, until after some time no trace of their action can be detected, and the normal condition of the organism is restored. Of this kind are the metallic and other mineral medicines, such as arsenic, mercury, lead, etc.”

In the Medicine of Experience he has the following observations on the same subject (Ibid., p. 517):-

“In the action of simple medicines on the healthy human body there occur, in the first place, phenomena and symptoms, which may be termed the positive disease, to be expected from the specific action of the medicinal substance, or its positive primary (first and principal) effect. When this is past, there ensues in hardly appreciable transitions the exact opposite of the first process (especially in the case of vegetable medicines), then occur the exact opposite (negative) symptoms, constituting the secondary action.”

In the first edition of the Organon he distinguishes the two actions by the terms primary and secondary symptoms.

The discrimination of the primary and secondary action was a point of some importance according to Hahnemann, as the choice of the homoeopathic specific medicine was dependent upon it; for, as he says in the Medicine of Experience, (Lesser Writings, p. 517.) it is the symptoms of the primary action of the drug that should correspond to those of the disease, in order that the drug should be a positive or curative remedy, and not a mere palliative.

R.E. Dudgeon
Robert Ellis Dudgeon 1820 – 1904 Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh in 1839, Robert Ellis Dudgeon studied in Paris and Vienna before graduating as a doctor. Robert Ellis Dudgeon then became the editor of the British Journal of Homeopathy and he held this post for forty years.
Robert Ellis Dudgeon practiced at the London Homeopathic Hospital and specialised in Optics.
Robert Ellis Dudgeon wrote Pathogenetic Cyclopaedia 1839, Cure of Pannus by Innoculation, London and Edinburgh Journal of Medical Science 1844, Hahnemann’s Organon, 1849, Lectures on the Theory & Practice of Homeopathy, 1853, Homeopathic Treatment and Prevention of Asiatic Cholera 1847, Hahnemann’s Therapeutic Hints 1847, On Subaqueous Vision, Philosophical Magazine, 1871, The Influence of Homeopathy on General Medical Practice Since the Death of Hahnemann 1874, Repertory of the Homeopathic Materia Medica, 2 vols 1878-81, The Human Eye Its Optical Construction, 1878, Hahnemann’s Materia Medica Pura, 1880, The Sphygmograph, 1882, Materia Medica: Physiological and Applied 1884, Hahnemann the Founder of Scientific Therapeutics 1882, Hahnemann’s Organon 1893 5th Edition, Prolongation of Life 1900, Hahnemann’s Lesser Writing.