Homeopathy is a system of alternative medicine created in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann, based on his doctrine of like cures like (similia similibus curentur), a claim that a substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people would cure similar symptoms in sick people. Homeopathy is a pseudoscience – a belief that is incorrectly presented as scientific. Homeopathic preparations are not effective for treating any condition; large-scale studies have found homeopathy to be no more effective than a placebo, suggesting that any positive feelings that follow treatment are only due to the placebo effect andnormal recovery from illness.
Hahnemann believed the underlying causes of disease were phenomena that he termed miasms, and that homeopathic preparations addressed these. The preparations are manufactured using a process of homeopathic dilution, in which a chosen substance is repeatedly diluted in alcohol or distilled water, each time with the containing vessel being bashed against an elastic material, (commonly a leather-bound book). Dilution typically continues well past the point where no molecules of the original substance remain. Homeopaths select homeopathics by consulting reference books known as repertories, and by considering the totality of the patient’s symptoms, personal traits, physical and psychological state, and life history.
Homeopathy is not a plausible system of treatment, as its dogmas about how drugs, illness, the human body, liquids and solutions operate are contradicted by a wide range of discoveries across biology, psychology, physics and chemistry made in the two centuries since its invention. Although some clinical trials produce positive results, multiple systematic reviews have indicated that this is because of chance, flawed research methods, and reporting bias. Continued homeopathic practice, despite the evidence that it does not work, has been criticized as unethical because it discourages the use of effective treatments, with the World Health Organisation warning against using homeopathy to try to treat severe diseases such as HIV and malaria.The continued practice of homeopathy, despite a lack of evidence of efficacy,has led to it being characterized within the scientific and medical communities as nonsense,quackery, and a sham.
Assessments by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, the British National Health and Medical Research Council, and the Swiss Federal Health Office have each concluded that homeopathy is ineffective, recommending against the practice receiving any further funding.
Homeopaths claim that Hippocrates may have originated homeopathy around 400 BC, when he prescribed a small dose of mandrake rootto treat mania, knowing it produces mania in much larger doses. In the 16th century, the pioneer of pharmacology Paracelsus declared that small doses of “what makes a man ill also cures him”. Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843) gave homeopathy its name and expanded its principles in the late 18th century.
In the late 18th and 19th centuries, mainstream medicine used methods like bloodletting and purging, and administered complex mixtures, such as Venice treacle, which was made from 64 substances including opium, myrrh, and viper’s flesh. These treatments often worsened symptoms and sometimes proved fatal. Hahnemann rejected these practices – which had been extolled for centuries – as irrational and inadvisable; instead, he advocated the use of single drugs at lower doses and promoted an immaterial, vitalistic view of how living organisms function, believing that diseases have spiritual, as well as physical causes.
The term “homeopathy” was coined by Hahnemann and first appeared in print in 1807.
Hahnemann conceived of homeopathy while translating a medical treatise by the Scottish physician and chemist William Cullen into German. Being skeptical of Cullen’s theory concerning cinchona’s use for curing malaria, Hahnemann ingested some bark specifically to investigate what would happen. He experienced fever, shivering and joint pain: symptoms similar to those of malaria itself. From this, Hahnemann came to believe that all effective drugs produce symptoms in healthy individuals similar to those of the diseases that they treat, in accord with the “law of similars” that had been proposed by ancient physicians. An account of the effects of eating cinchona bark noted by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and published in 1861, failed to reproduce the symptoms Hahnemann reported. Hahnemann’s law of similars is a postulate rather than a scientific law. This led to the name “homeopathy”, which comes from the Greek: ὅμοιος hómoios, “-like” and πάθος páthos, “suffering”)
Subsequent scientific work showed that cinchona cures malaria because it contains quinine, which kills the Plasmodium falciparum parasite that causes the disease; the mechanism of action is unrelated to Hahnemann’s ideas.
Preparation and Treatment:
Homeopathic preparations are referred to as “homeopathics” or “remedies”. Practitioners rely on two types of reference when prescribing: materia medica and repertories. A homeopathic materia medica is a collection of “drug pictures”, organised alphabetically. These entries describe the symptom patterns associated with individual preparations. A homeopathic repertory is an index of disease symptoms that lists preparations associated with specific symptoms. In both cases different compilers may dispute particular inclusions.The first symptomatic homeopathic materia medica was arranged by Hahnemann. The first homeopathic repertory was Georg Jahr’sSymptomenkodex, published in German in 1835, and translated into English as the Repertory to the more Characteristic Symptoms of Materia Medica by Constantine Hering in 1838. This version was less focused on disease categories and would be the forerunner to later works by James Tyler Kent. Repertories, in particular, may be very large.
Homeopathy uses animal, plant, mineral, and synthetic substances in its preparations, generally referring to them using Latin or faux-Latin names. Examples include arsenicum album (arsenic oxide), natrum muriaticum (sodium chloride or table salt), Lachesis muta (the venom of the bushmaster snake), opium, and thyroidinum (thyroid hormone).
Some homeopaths use so-called “nosodes” (from the Greek nosos, disease) made from diseased or pathological products such as fecal, urinary, and respiratory discharges, blood, and tissue. Conversely, preparations made from “healthy” specimens are called “sarcodes”.
Some modern homeopaths use preparations they call “imponderables” because they do not originate from a substance but some other phenomenon presumed to have been “captured” by alcohol or lactose. Examples include X-rays and sunlight.
Other minority practices include paper preparations, where the substance and dilution are written on pieces of paper and either pinned to the patients’ clothing, put in their pockets, or placed under glasses of water that are then given to the patients, and the use of radionics to manufacture preparations. Such practices have been strongly criticised by classical homeopaths as unfounded, speculative, and verging upon magic and superstition.
Hahnemann found that undiluted doses caused reactions, sometimes dangerous ones, so specified that preparations be given at the lowest possible dose. He found that this reduced potency as well as side-effects, but formed the view that vigorous shaking and striking on an elastic surface – a process he termed Schütteln, translated as succussion – nullified this. A common explanation for his settling on this process is said to be that he found preparations subjected to agitation in transit, such as in saddle bags or in a carriage, were more “potent”. Hahnemann had a saddle-maker construct a special wooden striking board covered in leather on one side and stuffed with horsehair. Insoluble solids, such as granite, diamond, and platinum, are diluted by grinding them with lactose (“trituration”).
The process of dilution and succussion is termed “dynamisation” or “potentisation” by homeopaths. In industrial manufacture this may be done by machine.
Serial dilution is achieved by taking an amount of the mixture and adding solvent, but the “Korsakovian” method may also be used, whereby the vessel in which the preparations are manufactured is emptied, refilled with solvent, and the volume of fluid adhering to the walls of the vessel is deemed sufficient for the new batch. The Korsakovian method is sometimes referred to as K on the label of a homeopathic preparation, e.g. 200CK is a 200C preparation made using the Korsakovian method.
Fluxion and radionics methods of preparation do not require succussion. There are differences of opinion on the number and force of strikes, and some practitioners dispute the need for succussion at all while others reject the Korsakovian and other non-classical preparations. There are no laboratory assays and the importance and techniques for succussion cannot be determined with any certainty from the literature.