Homoeopathy – Roots and Branches – 2) Empiricism and the First ‘Proving’ of a Substance

Hahnemann had for years studied the Empirical Medical Tradition and found some truth in it. According to the Empirical Medical Tradition each organic constitution, each disease process and each remedy is unique. Its four guiding principles were:

1. Do not injure.

2. Nature heals.

3. The appropriateness of medical techniques and the usefulness of remedies in disease can only ever be learned through observation and experience.

4. The organism reacts correctively to harmful stimuli in order to maintain equilibrium with its surroundings. This is known as the principle of Homoeostasis.

Note: Therefore symptoms are seen not in themselves as morbific, or harmful, but as the body’s own beneficial healing effort, which can be fully supported by the right form of medicine.

Hahnemann’s main criticism of empirical medicine was that it lacked an exact and serviceable theory of drug action. He believed that the only true way to have knowledge of the action of a medicine was through experimentation on the healthy human body.

He said that only by this means “can the true nature, the real effect of the medical substance be conscientiously discovered; from them (the experiments) alone can be ascertained to what maladies they are safely and successfully adaptable.”
(Hahnemann, ‘Essay on a New Principle for Ascertaining the Curative Power of Drugs and Some Examinations of the Previous Principles’)

These beliefs are probably what stimulated his initial experiment with the bark of the China tree, the experiment which initiated Hahnemann’s development of homoeopathy.

Experiment with Peruvian Bark
The turning point in Hahnemann’s career came in 1790 while he was translating a section of William Cullen’s Materia Medica. Cullen was a noted Scottish physician and herbalist and in his book he stated that Peruvian bark (known as Cinchona and referred to by homoeopaths as CHINA OFFICINALIS), from which quinine is extracted, was able to cure malaria because of its “bitter properties”. Hahnemann knew of other medicines and barks which possessed bitter qualities but they did not necessarily cure malaria, or ague as it was known then.

CHINA was also not a specific cure for malaria because Hahnemann knew from his own clinical experience that while some cases did respond to the medicine, others did not. Hahnemann believed The Lost Book of Herbal that there must be a way to find out under what conditions China was able to cure malaria so he decided to test the medicine on himself. He took four drachms and began to experience many of the symptoms usually associated with Malaria.

“My feet, the tips of my fingers etc. became cold, and I felt tired and sleepy; then my heart began to beat, my pulse became hard and quick, I got an insufferable feeling of uneasiness, and trembling, a weariness in all my limbs, then a beating in my head, redness of the cheeks, thirst; in short all of the old symptoms with which I was familiar in Ague appeared one after the other. Also those particularly characteristic symptoms with which I was wont to observe in Agues – obtuseness of the senses, a kind of stiffness in all of the limbs, but especially that dull disagreeable feeling which seems to have its seat in the periosteum of all the bones in the body – these all put in an appearance. This paroxysm lasted each time I repeated the dose, not otherwise. I left off and I became well.”

This was an outstanding revelation to Hahnemann, the opposite of what he was taught in his medical studies. He had been taught that a drug is given to counteract the symptom, for example laxatives are given for constipation. This system is commonly known now as the system of opposites. However the experiment with CHINA had shown him that a drug which can cure malaria produces malaria-like symptoms in a healthy person.

Further experiments with CHINA only confirmed Hahnemann’s results and he was also astonished at the great abundance of other symptoms which occurred on taking the drug which were not talked of in the literature of his day. He realised that each medicine had the possibility of curing other diseases with similar symptoms.

Thus was born – or perhaps we should say ‘reborn’ as Hippocrates himself spoke of this law – the Law or Principle of Similars. Over the next 40 years it was to be developed by Hahnemann into a substantial body of meticulously researched work on thousands of medicinally useful substances.

Hahnemann’s first public announcement of his newly found principle appeared six years later in 1796 in Hufeland’s Journal for Practising Physicians under the title: ” Essay on a New Principle for Ascertaining the curative Power of drugs”.

In this essay approximately 50 drugs were mentioned. Many of them Hahnemann had himself taken for the purpose of experimentation to explore what symptoms were elicited. In this essay Hahnemann made a critique of the existing methods of treatment and then introduced his own discoveries which he had formulated from his own experiments with medicines. The year 1796 has consequently been seen by some followers of Homoeopathy as the year of the birth of Homoeopathy, because at this point Hahnemann publicly stated what is now known as the Law of Similars and called his new form of medicine Homoeopathy.

Homoeopathy – A Definition
Hahnemann termed the medical system based on the Law of Similars Homoeopathy from the Greek words: Homoios – meaning similar and Pathos – meaning suffering.

The Law of Similars – Similia Similibus Curentur (Let likes be cured by likes)
A medicinal substance which creates symptoms and conditions in a healthy person will cure a sick person manifesting similar symptoms.