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What Is A Medicine?

In order to understand fully what Hahnemann is saying here, we have to transform our concept of what a medicine is from the conventional to the homeopathic view. For hundreds of years, physicians have characterized medicines in terms of the desirable actions they have upon the body, of their capacity to oppose the undesirable malfunctions of the body found in a particular illness, and to directly counteract or reduce illness symptoms.

The great weakness of this approach is that the actions of medicines on the total mind-body system are many and various, and go far beyond the malfunctioning mechanisms which are being targeted. Any medicine which is ingested is drawn into the bloodstream and carried to all parts of the body, including the brain, where it may produce unintended effects — the so-called “side-effects’ of modern pharmacology.

The physician is then drawn into a labyrinth trying vainly to understand to what extent the intended effects of the drug outweigh the unintended effects in a particular case. Since it is impracticable to measure all the effects of a given drug on a particular patient, he or she must work in partial or complete darkness in this regard.

In any event, it is not easy to justify the conceptual basis of the distinction between effects and side-effects. It rests merely on a value-judgment — effects are desired and side-effects are not. It cannot be founded on the basis that effects are curative and side-effects not curative, as allopathic medicines are generally not curative by their nature.

One of Hahnemann’s central insights was to cut through this conceptual confusion and say that any medicine, instead of producing effects and side-effects, is characterized by the symptoms it produces, rather than the symptoms it counteracts. In the case of a diuretic, for example, the main desired effect of a conventional medicine is to encourage the kidneys to drain excess fluid from the body.

This, however, is not a curative effect, since it takes place only so long as the medicine is present in the body. It is, in fact, a medically-induced symptom which is opposite in character to the symptom being treated. Such a medicine, if given to a healthy person, would drain the body of fluid excessively, and the intention is that it will bring the patient with edema towards normal functioning.

However, any substance which produces one medicinal effect, however apparently desirable, is likely to produce others which are not so desirable. Take, for example, the diuretic chlorothiazide, which comes under various brand names. In the guide to allopathic medicines produced by the Australian Consumers Association [3], the uses of chlorothiazide are given as “to remove water from the body, for example in hypertension and in many cases of edema.”

The drug works by inhibiting the re-absorption of sodium from the urine by the kidneys so that more urine is produced. This sounds reasonable, and we go on to read that side effects are normally “not marked.” However, the authors point out that the drug can cause levels of potassium in the body to fall below normal, “and this can cause heart problems, especially in the elderly, those taking digitalis-like drugs and those with coronary heart disease.” Since the very patients likely to need a drug for edema and high blood pressure are also likely to have heart conditions and to be elderly, this starts to sound a little worrying.

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