The Quest for Specifics - homeopathy360
Articles The British Homoeopathic Journal

The Quest for Specifics

(A paper read to the Faculty of Homoeopathy on 25 October 1973)
Less than ten years after Hahnemann’s death in Paris, Dr. Dudgeon was
lecturing on Homoeopathy at the Hahnemann Hospital in London. These
lectures were published at the end of 1853, and in lecture III the lecturer
discussed specific medicine, for he stated that originally Hahnemann called his system the doctrine of specifics; and that from 1796 to 1808 specific was the word he used to designate his system; it was only after 1808 that the word homoeopathic appears.
It has been shown that in the very earliest ages of medicine, the main objectives of the legendary physicians were the discovery of specifics. Aesculapius himself was famous because of his knowledge of specifics, and the votive tablets hung in his temples were records of specific Cures (Rapou, quoted 1854). The marvellous remedy was the “arcanum”, a secret of the alchemists (Layard 1961).
Bacon in the Advancement of Learning deplored the lack of specific medicines and quoted the then current jest that English physicians were like bishops that had the keys of binding and loosing but no more.
The philosopher Locke, a Somerset man, whose bust, strange to say, is to be seen in the porch of a neigh bouring church, commented:
“Did we know the mechanical affections of the particles of rhubarb, hemlock,
opium and of a man as a watchmaker does that of a watch, we should be able to tell that rhubarb will purge, hemlock kill, and opium make a man sleep.”
Sydenham claimed that a specific was a medicine, not a palliative, that cured a disease; and the only true specific that he recognized was the Peruvian bark for intermittent fever. It is worthy of note that this was the medicine Hahnemann tested: a true specific in his search for its principle of action. and thus inductively reasoned out the similia principle.
Sydenham, Boerhave, van Swieten, von Storck, devoted themselves to the
search for specifics with more or less success, but still they were obliged to
chance mainly for their discoveries, and specific medicine still stood in antagonism as mere empiricism (i.e. not much better than quackery) to so-called rational medicine (Dudgeon).
The Peruvian bark had been brought back to Europe in 1640 by the Countess of Chinchon, the wife of the Spanish Viceroy of Peru (Hobhouse). Even before, Camoens, the Portuguese poet, on his voyage to India with Vasco da Gama in Goa, met an expert on the native Indian remedies. In the nineteenth century, the American homoeopath, Dr. Hale, collected the indigenous remedies of the United States used by those to whom he politely refers as domestic practitioners (Hale).
But Hahnemann had discovered in the similia similibus curentur, the principle on which specifics could be discovered, and for the next six years he proved drug after drug, one specific after another (Nankivell).
Cullen’s Materia Medica was not the only textbook he translated in the last
decade of the eighteenth century; there was also Munro’s textbook, a Thesaurus by a London M.R.C.P. and von Haller’s Materia Medica (Dudgeon).
Hahnemann commented on these authorities that in treating of a disease, the plan they pursued was:
“If A should not answer, try B, and if this will not do, a choice lies among
C, D, E, F, G; I have often found Hand K of service; others recommend most
highly J and L; and I know of some who cannot sufficiently praise M, U and Z; while others extol N, Rand T; S and X also are said not to be bad in this
disease; some English physicians recently recommended Q in preference to all others in this affection; I certainly would be inclined to give it a trial.” (Hahnemann 1801b.)
“You may put all the names of (the medicines) together into a bag and according to your fancy draw out one or several, it is quite immaterial, you may use this one or that one.” (Hahnemann 1809a.)
But he was critical too of the claims of those physicians for so-called specifics against undifferentiated groups of disorders; he wrote that grand plans were formed by medical men for discovering nothing less than a universal specific for everything they called poison; and this included the plague, philtres, bewitchment and the bites of venomous animals. Among other agents this specific was sought for in vinegar (Hahnemann 1798a). Again, he condemned a qualified doctor who advertised a spirit for the toothache as certain to cure. Hahnemann commented:
“That toothache is as various in character as are the internal maladies that
produce it; hence one medicine is useful only in one kind, another in another
kind oftoothache.” (Hahnemann 1809b.)
He gives examples of three different kinds of toothache and their three
appropriate remedies, remedies which are not palliatives but permanently
Of course, to begin with, there was inevitably a hangover from his early training; he found some difficulty in giving up the concept of diseases as
entities in themselves; so he began by searching for specifics for different diseases such as mercury for syphilis, thuja for gonorrhoea (Bodman 1954).
He wrote:
“It is exhilirating to believe that for each particular disease for each particular
morbid variety, there are peculiar directly acting remedies and that there is also a way in which these (remedies) may be methodically discovered.” (Hahnemann 1796.)
Quite a euphoric mood in contrast to the depressed frame of mind four years
before, when writing of epidemics, he claimed that there were no specific
antidotes and if the doctor felt himself going down with the prevailing infection, he could only advise him to take a domestic remedy (Hahnemann 1792).
But Hahnemann was soon disillusioned with the “named Diseases” of ortho-
dox medicine; he found that they were not of a constant character, did not
conform to a fixed form; indeed that the name of a disease was in itself an
imaginary thing to be cured, and the few true specifics had been discovered byaccident, specifics for the few illnesses which always preserved the same character (Hahnemann 1825).
But why no more than these few specifics?
“because all other disease only present themselves as individual cases of disease differing from each other, or as epidemics which have never been seen before, and will never be seen again in exactly the same form” (Hahnemann lS25). What foresight. No high. powered microscopes, no bacteriology, no virus experts in his day.
In 1792, Hahnemann was rather pessimistic about epidemics. In The Friend
of Health
he admitted that “we know of no specific antidotes for the several
kinds of contagious matters; we must content ourselves with general prophylactic means”.
But six years later he reported on an epidemic of influenza that as a remedy
camphor surpassed all his expectations; he claimed that it was a specific in all stages of the disease, especially when it was given early as possible and in large doses; a large number of patients recovered in four days in spite of their serious symptoms (Hahnemann 1798b).
And in the next year, 1799, an epidemic of scarlet fever reached the town
where he was living. Faced with an early case in a child of ten, he recalled that Belladonna was the remedy capable of producing a counterpart of the little girl’s symptoms and prescribed a dose of the 6x potency. The child recovered on the second day; then he prescribed Belladonna for the other five children in the family and they all remained perfectly well (Hahnemann 1801a).
By 1809, Germany and indeed much of Europe was suffering from a feverish epidemic which was being treated very unsuccessfully as if it were a malarial infection; Hahnemann described the symptoms in detail when they had not been altered by drugs, and matched these with his description in Latin of the symptoms of the toxicology of Nux vomica in his Fragmenta de Viribus Medica mentorum Positivis which he had published four years before in 1805. He found Nux vomica the only medicine capable of curing a great part of the infected patients in a short time; but he had to admit that in some severe cases there were patients whose symptoms were not covered by Nux vomica, and that these states were matched by the symptoms produced by Arsenic, a mineral which had fallen out of favour with orthodox physicians as too dangerous in ordinarydoses, but which Hahnemann found efficacious when given in the 12x potency (Hahnemann 1809).
After the retreat from Moscow in 1812, a peculiar epidemic spread all over
Germany; the chief specific remedies according to Stapf, Hahnemann’s favourite pupil, appeared to be Nux vomica and Pulsatilla (Stapf, quoted by Haehl). The following year, Hahnemann was in Leipsic when conditions became even more difficult; on the plains outside the city were camped soldiers from half Europe, French, Spaniards, Italians, Germans, Russians and Poles. For four days in October, cannons thundered, rifles cracked outside the gates of the town. After the battle, a typhus epidemic developed which was quite different from the previous year’s infection but no less devastating. Hahnemann published an essay describing the fever’s course in two stages; for the first stage he advised Bryonia 12x, for the second stage Rhus toxicodendron 12:x: (Hahnemann lS14): he wrote: “of the lS3 patients whom I treated for this infection in Leipsic, I did not lose one” (Hahnemann 1816), which excited a great sensation among the members of the Russian government then occupying Dresden but was taken no notice of by the Austrian medical authorities.
In 1821, an epidemic mistakenly diagnosed by the profession as scarlet fever appeared, which Hahnemann distinguished as purpura miliaris; this often proved fatal in orthodox hands; but Hahnemann recommended Aconite 16x, a single dose to be followed in 16-24 hours by Coffea 6x; he adds:
“Nothing should be done or given to the patient: no venesection, no leeches, no calomel, no purgatives, no cooling or diaphoretic medicines or herb tea, no water compresses, no baths, no clysters, no gargles, no vesicatories (blisters) or sina. pisms (mustard plasters).” (Hahnemann 1821.)
Cholera invaded Europe in 1831. Hahnemann tackled the problem ener-
getically and published four pamphlets free of charge. His advice proved very valuable. The Hungarian Dr. Bakody had 154 cholera patients from the end of July to the beginning of September; only 6 died; this compared with 122 deaths out of 284 hospital patients and 699 deaths out of 1217 cholera patients treated privately in the same town (Haehl).
A Prussian Medical Officer of Health wrote in July to Hahnemann, asking
him to suggest a specific remedy, as a Russian ship had docked at Danzig only 15 miles away, and already 500 Danzigers had died (Beumelberg 1831). How did Hahnemann, who had not seen or treated a single cholera patient, find the remedy with such complete conviction? He procured from some careful observers, a very accurate description of the commencing symptoms and found that the first and most important symptoms of the patients were alike to the symptoms produced by a healthy individual who had taken a large dose of Camphor; Camphor, therefore, should be the best remedy to be given at the onset of the infection, according to his principle of similia similibus (Schmit). Hahnemann insisted on the very early recognition of the disease; only in the first two hours of the sickness would Camphor abort the infection (Hahnemann 1831). If the disease had advanced to the second and third stages, he advised the use of Cuprum and of Veratrum album (Haehl).
Nearly a century later, our Swiss colleague Pierre Schmidt presented a paper to the IX International Homceopathic Congress in London on the Genus Epidemicus. In an epidemic period the homceopathic physician must seek, not the individualisation of the patient, but the individualization of the epidemic itself; for even the same epidemic will have different manifestations as it reaches different cities, different countries. He quotes one influenza epidemic where in ‘Vurttemberg, Sepia was almost specific, but in the same epidemic, Bryonia was the remedy in Geneva, while in Lausanne it was Rhus radicans. So he advises, when the outbreak is malignant from the beginning, affects a large area, many persons are involved, cases are serious, mortality is high, convalescence is slow; in such an epidemic individual variations are overwhelmed by the acuteness of
the infection. Then, says Schmidt, the homoeopathic physician is faced with the special task. He must see at least ten cases; he will then retire to his study for one, two, ten hours and concentrate on the data he has collected; nothing must be allowed to disturb him; he must study the picture from the totality of all the symptoms from all the cases that gives a clue to the group of remedies from which a choice has to be made. Generalizing, he claims that for epidemic use, there will be no single routine remedy but a group of remedies which selected according to homceopathic rules, will prove adequate for probably all cases during this particular epidemic.
In the subsequent discussion, Dr. Dishington, a former President of the
Society, reported that in the great influenza epidemic of 1918, Rhus toxicodendron was the specific remedy in Glasgow; he had the great good fortune not to lose a single case.
From this epidemic following the First World War, let us go to a mild epidemic of influenza at the beginning of the Second World War. Dr. Templeton, another Past President of the Society, analysed 100 cases from this 1939 epidemic and 61 per cent. were covered by 3 remedies, i.e. Gelsemium 36 per cent., Bryonia 15 per cent. and Sulphur 10 per cent. The remaining 39 per cent. were covered by 18 different remedies (Templeton 1939).
In the same epidemic in Bristol, I found myself in agreement with Templeton
that Gelsemium was the most frequently used drug; but I did not find that
Gelsemium covered the hospital admissions of influenza complicated by pneumonia. I am of the opinion that the patients who contract complications are constitutionally different from the general run and are likely to require a different drug; in my ward, I had five patients with influenzal pneumonia at the same time, and as far as I can remember they all required different homeeopathic drugs (Bodman 1939).
Another exception to the general response to the epidemic remedy is the
patient who has undergone a recent inoculation. Soon after the blitzes began in Bristol, a huge shelter population began to gather each night, and it was decided by the MOH, as a protective measure, to inoculate the nursing staff at the hospital against diphtheria and typhoid. Two months later, the hospital was smitten with a mild influenza-type infection and about a dozen nurses went sick in a couple of days. They were typically Bryonia, and the nurses cleared up promptly in 48 hours, all except a sister who had been recently inoculated; her temperature failed to come down, all her sinuses were infected and she made no improvement until she had a dose of Morbillinum (Bodman 1941).
In contrast to the 1939 epidemic of influenza when the leading remedy was
Gelsemium, Dr. Templeton reported on the next year’s epidemic when Rhus
(40 per cent.) and Bryonia alba (25 per cent.) covered two-thirds of his cases, while Gelsemium only cured 5 per cent. (Templeton 1941).
Ten years later, in 1951, a study was made of a series of influenza cases (Hamilton). In this epidemic, no characteristic remedy was identified. This was confirmed by Dr. Blackie who admitted that she had used a greater variety of remedies than ever before in an influenza epidemic. In the 1957 epidemic of influenza due to Asian virus A, the first phase of the epidemic affectedchildren and the symptoms were very uniform; Belladonna was definitely the epidemic remedy (Mitchell); most cases were normal within 12 hours and there were no recurrences. In the second phase of the epidemic there were more adult patients, the symptomatology was less uniform and Belladonna was rarely indicated.
But influenza epidemics are not the only epidemics whose characteristic
remedy varies; the dominant types of whooping cough epidemics are now well known; Hahnemann originally claimed that Drosera was a specific for pertussis (Hahnemann 1827), but he may not have encountered subsequent epidemics of a different strain; Leeser claimed that in certain epidemics of whooping cough where the copious expectoration of viscid stringy mucus was a feature, Coccus cacti 3x proved superior to Drosera or Ipecacuanha (Leeser 1959).
Dr. Foubister comments on Dr. Burnett’s specific for Mumps, Pilocarpine
3x; in his experience either the salt or Pilocarpine itself in the 30th
potency has an almost specific effect. Again, he quotes Dr. Tyler who claimed that Antimony tartrate is a specific for impetigo contagiosa in children.
Perhaps it is in children that good results can still be expected, for they have
not been exposed to so many decades of prophylactic antibiotics. It has been suggested that the poor response to homeeopathic remedies in acute infections nowadays is due to the abuse of antibiotics and the consequent increasing resistance of the infecting agents; at the 1965 International Homoeopathic Congress in London, von Petzinger compared two cases of acute rheumatic fever; one a girl of 16 he treated in 1949 with a good result, the other, a judge of 61, whom he attended in 1964 with a poor outcome.
You will remember the 1957 Asian influenza epidemic, where the children
responded well to one remedy, while the adults failed to produce a convincing response to this remedy.
Now, there are a group of remedies which appear to have a specific effect on individual organs or tissues; some physicians are critical about their use as no more than empiricism; it is true that many of them have not been thoroughly proved (Galatzer); but as Dr. Wheeler pointed out, prescribing on a tissue basis was the main doctrine of the influential Dr. Hughes whose textbooks in the late Victorian era were read all over the world; diseased tissue is an extremely sensitive tissue; generally, in order to give and maintain a tissue stimulus, Wheeler recommended a low potency of a drug, fairly frequently repeated.
It was on these organ specifics that the French homceopath Leon Vannier
relied in practising “Ie Drainage”; he quotes Ceanothus for the spleen, Helonias for the uterus, Hura Brasiliensis for the rectum; but when we come to the elimination of so-called toxic products we have regressed to the worn-out phantasy of getting rid of the materia peccans (Bodman 1934). Another French homeeopath, Fortier-Bernoville, argues a theoretical basis for le Drainage, le plan visceral, but he starts with the assumption that the organism can be separated into several floors or levels, and he concentrates on sweeping each floor clean but neglects the reaction of the organism as a whole.
A former President followed up this notion, that mental, general and particu-
lar symptoms have their own definite level of action in the body, and in like
manner, there may be a level of action to be found in the different potencies of the remedies; that the lowest potencies can only influence those regions where local tissue change has occurred (Kenyon). It is true that I myself produced the evidence 36 years ago as to the level of action of our different remedies, but I had to conclude that our choice of remedy was still to be based on the totality of the symptoms (Bodman 1936). Ten years later, Dr. Boyd senior of Glasgow drew our attention to the advances made possible by the use of artificial radioactive tracers, and the outstanding instances to his mind were the radioactive phosphorus with its selectivity on bone and radio-iodine with its selectivity for the thyroid gland (Boyd 1947). That there is this selective action on certain tissues is established for some minerals; but in the case of vegetable or animal agents, it is much more difficult to identify the constituent responsible for the selective action.
A fairly recent investigation of the bark of an Indian tree, Ficus religiosa,
isolated three sterols from a petroleum ether extract, another sterol from a
chloroform extract, a further sterol from an acetone extract, a saponin, a sixth sterol, another saponin, and a glucoside from an alcoholic extract (Srivastava 1966.)
Not to take up time with a long list of organ remedies, let me remind you
of Fraxinus Americana and Helonias dioica as useful in prolapsus uteri and
cystocoele (Wilson 1937), of Mercurius solubilis in the gingivitis of pregnancyHochstetter 1966) and of Borax 6x in the treatment of post extraction alveolitis (Hochstetter 1967) as reported by our colleague from Santiago in Chile. Cratae- gus mother tincture has been widely used in the treatment of hyperpiesia by homoeopathic doctors; its main effect may be to lower the systolic blood pressure, but it is well to bear in mind that it also has an action on the blood clotting time, and to give it at the same time to post coronary patients who have been put on coumarin-type antithrombotics is to prolong the bleeding time and promote alarming haemorrhages.
An alternative to Crataegus for hypertension is Eel-serum recommended by
an American homoeopathic physician as a good, safe hypertensive depressant, having no dangerous side effects (Gladish). Some of you may remember Dr. Blackie’s dramatic report of the good results with this remedy in an apparently terminal case of nephritis.
During the air raids in London, Crotalus horridus was found effective in gas-
gangrene infections of muscle after injury (Borland 1941). But Crotalus was also the remedy of choice by Dr. Manasse, who quotes six cases of thrombophlebitis resolved by this remedy; indeed, he states that it worked so convincingly in the majority of his cases that the diagnosis of thrombophlebitis produced almost a reflex of Crotalus.
Another remedy that has a specific action on uterine muscle is Caulophyllum, valuable in dysmenorrhoea and difficult labour (Taylor-Smith). But this is not the only tissue involved, for it has proved useful in arthritic pains in the small joints of the fingers.
But leaving aside epidemic remedies and tissue remedies, it is not so much
“All the other innumerable diseases exhibit such a difference in their phenomena that we may safely assert that they arise from a combination of several dissimilar causes.” (Hahnemann 1805b.)
Dr. Drysdale, defending the then new English Repertory, a concordance of
symptoms, reiterates Hahnemann’s proposition that no two cases are exactly alike in terms of symptoms.
It was all very well for Hahnemann in 1808; he could say of medicines whose action had been accurately ascertained (he means by provings):”I possess now almost 30, and of such as are pretty well known about the
same number.”
Probably, his super intelligence could hold the symptoms of these 60 remedies available for instant recall. But in our day and age, we are told that the newest edition of Kent’s Repertory will include the symptomatology of 600 remedies. The odds against picking the winner have become much higher.
If at first Hahnemann followed in the footsteps of Boerhaave, von Storck and
van Swietenin, in the search for specific remedies for diseases, his experience in the application of his new principle, led him to retrace his steps: he still searched for the specific, but for the individual patient, not for the disease (Bodman 1959).
Perhaps some of you saw Truffaut’s film Stolen Kisses; the lover told his
mistress, “you are an extraordinary woman” . “No,” she said, “or rather “Yes-
I am, but so are you extraordinary, and for that matter, so is everyone.”Dr. Leeser, writing on constitutional treatment, says:
“In the specificity of the person, we see the most central point of the functional system; this central office of the individual receives the stimulus from outsidealready in its own specific manner, transforms it equally specifically so that the outward effect also bears the stamp of its own specific personality.” (Leeser 1934).
Instead of a specific for a disease, a specific for a constitutional type. Thus
the specific for the individual acts now for a patient with rheumatism, now
for a schizoid psychopath, or a patient with exophthalmos, a clerk with
hyperpiesia, a child who is a congenital syphilitic, or a workman with a terminal pneumonia as Dr. Rorke recounted in his series of Sulphur patients. Dr. Templeton analysed 30 successful prescriptions of Lycopodium for 17 different disorders (Templeton 1948), and more recently still, the late Dr. Fergus Stewart listed 50 occasions when Thuja was prescribed for a series of patients with nosological diagnoses of at least II different complaints. The corollary of course, is that in the same diseases, the simillimum or specific will vary for different individual patients (Kasad).
But, it has been pointed out by our colleague in Chile, that with all his emphasis on individualization, Hahnemann in his last work Chronic Diseases, once again refers to specific diseases and specific remedies (Hochstetter 1966).
Apart from the epistemology, what have we learnt from this review?Firstly, that in comparison with the four specifics known to Hahnemann
before his provings, there is quite a range of specifics for the infectious diseases and for tissue disorders. These specifics are important in teaching Homoeopathy; any inquiry into the way orthodox practitioners were convinced of the value of homoeopathic prescribing demonstrates that the great majority were profoundly impressed by the personal experience of a rapid cure of an acute illness, either in themselves or in one of their patients when they themselves had failed (Bodman 1973). The teaching of Homoeopathy should not only be theoretical or confined to the lecture room, but must include practical experience; what more certain confirmation is available than the demonstration to the post-graduate in his own practice of the value of specifics?
Dr. Hamish Boyd has collated a number of almost specific remedies used by
Dr. Runcie of Dunfermline and Dr. Burns of Manchester as suitable for pilot
clinical trials (Boyd 1973). As he says, there are others which could be added to the list, and I have incidentally indicated some others.
Not only can specific remedies for specific diseases provide valuable evidence for convincing our inquiring colleagues; moreover, as has been shown at Santiago University, we can gain the co-operation of official medicine in proving the efficacy of our remedies (Hochstetter 1966).
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Wheeler, C. E. (1926) Hospital Records. The British Homeeopathic Journal, 16, 160. Wilson, G. L. (1937) Homceopathy and Pregnancy. The British Homceopathic Journal, 27, 382.
Emeritus Consultant Psychiatrist, Bristol Homoeopathic Hospital
Source: The British Homoeopathic Journal Vol 1, January 1975.

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