Similia Similibus Curentur Post 4

Every agent that acts upon the vitality, every medicine, deranges more or less the vital force, and causes a certain alteration in the health of the individual for a longer or shorter period. this is termed primary action….To its action our vital force endeavors to oppose its own energy. This resistant action is a property, is indeed an automatic action of our life-preserving power, which goes by the name of secondary action or counteraction.

One of Hahnemann’s greatest insights was the realization that this reaction of the mind/body system could be mobilized through the law of similars. Returning to our example of cinchona bark, he realized that the primary action of cinchona bark was to produce malaria-like symptoms such as periodic fevers with chills. These are the toxic effects produced in certain cases by exposure to Cinchona. In the case of a patient who already had these “morbid” symptoms as a result of malaria itself, exposure to Cinchona would produce first an intensification of the patient’s existing symptoms (the homeopathic aggravation), and then a reaction of the system which would draw the patient towards health.

To take another example which will be familiar to readers who are not themselves expert homeopaths: most of us are familiar with the “side-effects” of taking too much coffee. Excessive intake of coffee will bring about symptoms such as trembling, rapid pulse, agitation of the mind, disturbed sleep and restlessness. We are all familiar with these symptoms, which are brought about by the stimulating effects of caffeine, but many other symptoms are produced by coffee which are less familiar, such as increased production of urine. The caffeine in the coffee is a drug, whose primary action on the body is to produce all these effects, and many others besides. It is only too common to use coffee as an allopathic non-prescription drug – students artificially counteract the mind/body system’s natural desire for sleep, for example, when they are studying through the night for exams. It is impossible, however, to escape the secondary effect. Excessive fatigue eventually catches up with us — perhaps during the exam itself!

The homeopathic use of coffee is much more creative. Coffea cruda and Coffea tosta (derived from unroasted and roasted coffee, respectively) have very similar, but subtly different profiles of symptoms, including the ones outlined above. Let us consider the case of a young baby with sleeping problems. The baby has great difficulty going to sleep in the evening. He cannot get off to sleep easily by himself, and will lie in bed tossing and turning, and making moaning and crying noises if put straight to bed while he is awake.

Eventually he becomes extremely frustrated and the crying builds up in intensity until he is quite distressed. The same problem recurs during the night, causing his unfortunate parents to suffer from their own set of symptoms related to lack of sleep. He wakes up at 12 p.m. or 2 a.m. and becomes extremely alert, looking around him on all sides, eyes opened wide, starting at sudden noises. During the day he sleeps for perhaps 40 minutes at a time, and only a few times. His cheeks are flushed and red-looking.

The Portrait of a Patient

Most of these symptoms are similar to those listed in T. F. Allen’s Primer of Materia Medica and other materia medicas as being produced by coffee. The important thing to home in on is that they are not a motley collection of unrelated symptoms. They are in fact all aspects of a state or condition — the state of over-stimulation of the nervous system brought about by coffee. In the case described we can identify that state fairly easily, but in other cases it is not so easy to characterize the state of the patient overall. But it is crucial.

In analyzing a case we learn to make a selection of symptoms in the patient which are marked and which are truly distinctive. We then try and match these selected symptoms as best we can to entries in our materia medica, using various tools (which nowadays include computer searches). This can be moderately easy, in some cases, or fiendishly difficult in others. It can be difficult because of the difficulty of the number of symptoms involved in the comparison.

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