Among the many alternative medical disciplines popular in the United States, homeopathic medicine is one of the more prominent. The practice was imported from Western Europe, where it gained traction in the 1800s as a plant-based healing practice.

Here are the basic things to understand about homeopathic medicine, its origins, and the theories that underpin it.

A Brief History of Homeopathic Medicine

 

German physician, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, developed what is now called homeopathic medicine more than 200 years ago. According to Hahnemann, he took on the task of devising a new medical discipline because of the widespread failures of the existing medical system to effectively treat illnesses.

He based his new treatment modality on the “law of similars,” or “like cures like” theory.

The ‘Law of Similars’

 

The basic idea behind the law of similars is that any plant-based herbal drug, when administered in high doses, might produce a range of symptoms. The theory goes that this same medicine in very small quantities, then, might also be useful for treating individuals who experience those symptoms – hence the “like vs like” phrase.

As an example, the inspiration for homeopathy in the early days was cinchona (present in tree bark) taken to cure malaria. When taken in large enough quantities, cinchona produces fever, chills, and other symptoms in common with malaria. Hahnemann, then, extrapolated to propose that all medicines should produce similar symptoms to the conditions they treat – the “law of similars.”

The most important note here is that Hahnemann was convinced that large doses of drugs (like cinchona in the above example) would worsen the conditions homeopathy intended to treat. Accordingly, he devised protocols that called for extremely small concentrations of the herbal remedies he proposed.

Materia Medica Pura and ‘Provings’

 

Hahnemann devoted an extensive amount of time and energy into showing the effectiveness of his homeopathic remedies. To do this, he studied multiple subjects with various conditions who received homeopathic remedies. Hahnemann methodically recorded the results, which he published in a first series of “provings” in 1805 and further work in his 1810 seminal book on homeopathy, Materia Media Pura.

 

Proponents of homeopathy are extremely devoted to the practice. Every year around the globe, hundreds of summits and conferences bring together the recognized leaders of the practice. Moving forward, as more and more patients look outside of the conventional medical space for answers to hard-to-treat problems, we can expect the roster of homeopathy devotees to rise.