Samuel Hahnemann is the father of homeopathy. The concept of “like cures like” was around for thousands of years before Hahnemann, but he was the first to experiment with it and develop it into an entire system of medicine known today as homeopathy.
Hahnemann was a practicing physician in the early 1800’s when bloodletting, cathartics, purgatives, and toxic doses of mercury were the mainstays of “treatment” by allopathic doctors. In his late 20’s, disillusioned with the practice of medicine in his time, he decided that his patients would be better off healing on their own and quit his practice.
Fluent in several languages, he began translating medical texts for a living in order to support his large family. One night, he was translating a passage on Cinchona Bark out of William Cullen’s Materia Medica, when something about it caught his attention. Cullen had posited that Cinchona’s anti-malarial activity was attributed to its bitter properties. Being a scholar, chemist, physician, and all around genius, Hahnemann believed that this did not make any sense because other plants with these same properties had no effect on malaria. So Hahnemann decided to conduct an experiment to see for himself what effect it had. He began taking doses of a tincture of Cinchona bark. He found that for 2-3 hours, every time after taking a dose, he would experience fever, chills, fatigue, malaise, and numbness – all symptoms of malaria!
From this experiment, he hypothesized that the effects of Cinchona bark must be derived from the principle of “Like Cures Like”. The law of similars states that a substance that causes, in a healthy person, symptoms similar to those of a disease state, can cure a sick person in that disease state. This principle had been written about previously by Hippocrates, Paracelsus, Egyptians, Mayans, and Native Americans. Hahnemann, however, took it a few steps farther to develop an entire systematic, replicable form of medicine to which he could apply his theories and treat disease.
After his experiment with Cinchona, he began taking single tinctures of many other herbs and substances, and recording all of the symptoms they produced in him (a healthy individual). These early recordings of Hahnemann were the first homeopathic “provings.” Hahnemann preformed hundreds of different provings on himself, his family, and friends. Then he began applying his finding to sick patients, i.e. giving them doses of the substances that had produced the same or similar symptoms in the healthy provers. When he gave a close match, the sick patients got better. He repeated this over and over throughout his lifetime, allowing him to refine his method to develop this entire system of medicine, based entirely on scientific experimentation.
One of the most significant modifications from his original process involved developing the theory of the “minimum dose.” During Hahnemann’s experiments, he noticed that although these similar substances were alleviating the symptoms of disease, some of the substances were extremely toxic and produced side effects. Because of this, he started experimenting with using smaller and smaller doses. Much to his surprise the remedies actually worked better the more they were diluted! He also found that through a series of succussions (vigorously shaking the diluted substance) and further dilutions, he could develop different potencies of the remedies. Despite the fact that Hahnemann had created this magnificent, non-toxic form of medicine, he was actually very disappointed because he knew that it would not be accepted by mainstream medicine, simply because it did not make sense that something that “did not exist” could have such a profound effect on health! To this day we do not know exactly what it is that affects health when we give a remedy, we just know it does. There have been some studies recently examining some of the more popular theories, most involving quantum physics (see our research page).
Click here for information on the history of homeopathy and mental illness.
Since its birth, homeopathy has experienced many ups and downs throughout history. If you are interested in learning more about the struggle of homeopathy in this country, we suggest reading Divided Legacy Vol. III: The Conflict Between Homeopathy and the American Medical Association