Who can take a sunrise
Sprinkle it with dew
Cover it in chocolate
And a miracle or two
The candy man
The candy man can
The candy man can cause he
Mixes it with love and
Makes the world taste good…
Before the establishment of modern pharmacology, superstition drove the selection and use of remedies for maladies that afflicted us. The Greek word Pharmakon, from which the word pharmacology is derived, meant magic charm for treating disease. In those times, the goal of a pharmakon was to get rid of the evil spirits that was thought to be behind diseases and illnesses. We knew very little about the etiology of diseases. With the passage of time, experience, largely based on trial and error, enabled people to differentiate remedies that were useful and actually worked from those that did not work to alleviate symptoms. This lead to certain remedies getting selected and used over others. That was the advent of herbal medicines using plant extracts, to which modern medicine owes a lot.
Further developments in modern pharmacology had to wait for advances in chemistry and physiology. The most important among these were the isolation of pure compounds and discoveries on the etiology of diseases and illnesses. With this, the role of magic and miracle started to fade away from the realm of treating diseases and illnesses.
The first pure drug to be isolated was Morphine, based on the analgesic and euphoric properties of Opium poppy pods that was known for thousands of years. Following this, several other opiates, including Codeine were isolated from the Poppy plant. The identification of the structures of these and other compounds paved the way to convert naturally abundant compounds into rare ones in the laboratory. The availability of pure compounds revolutionized modern medicine and allowed us to ask specific questions about specificity, mode of action and dosage. With this, the role of magic and miracle was nearly eliminated from the realm of treating diseases.
As modern pharmacology became a true multidisciplinary enterprise, it derived utility from advances in other disciplines. But, more importantly, it also contributed to the generation of useful reagents as well as frameworks to interrogate life processes with specificity. Molecules that fall into the broad classes of agonists and antagonists are illuminating examples of this. Thus, modern pharmacology also paved the way to get rid of misconceptions about life such as vital forces and mysterious energies.
In the present day, modern pharmacology is the scientific discipline that deals with the interaction of chemicals with cells, tissues, organs and organisms. With its birth, outcomes of chemical interactions could be rationally correlated to physiological changes that they brought about through their interactions with their molecular targets. In the present day, advances in synthetic chemistry allow us to make compounds that we desire. In the present day, advances in physiology and modern investigative tools allow us to rationally ask questions and obtain answers on pharmacological effects chemicals have on our body devoid of the noise originating from the impurities in the source material. A shining example is the discovery of Artemisinin, an antimalarial drug that was obtained after screening around 2000 Chinese herbal remedies. The discovery won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine. We are continuously discovering and poised to discover many more drugs from natural sources including ancient herbal remedies and synthesize them in the laboratory.
The time is ripe to ask chemists, biochemists, microbiologists, geneticists, physicists or any other person who has a reasonable background and training in science, or just plain common sense, a simple yet critical scientific question- can you imagine diluting an extract containing Artemisinin in water or alcohol and then magically come up with a sugar pill that will cure Malaria with the same efficacy as a more concentrated dose of a purified preparation of Artemisinin would? I doubt anyone could. But the homeopathic doctor- the Candy man- can! Because apparently, he also mixes a miracle or two and also love and makes it tastes good too.
If a conspiracy exists in the medical field that needs to be discussed and condemned by the scientific community, it is not the one purportedly run by Allopathy and modern pharmacology against Homeopathy, but rather the one waged by Homeopathy against herbal medicines right from the inception of Homeopathy- as I have alluded to in the Part IV of this series. As it stands now, almost 80% of homeopathic remedies are herbal remedies mixed with miracles and made to taste good. Where they are not, they are no different from herbal medicines or Allopathic medicines. Yet, by naming a remedy “Homeopathic”, it allows practitioners of this branch of medicine to sidestep regulatory guidelines that require labeling of actual compositions and active ingredients that even practitioners of herbal medicine and supplements are required to follow.
*Here is a link to the kid’s song “The candy man can” and the lyrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIPGyKGuWeA
Authored by Dr Syam Anand, PhD (Indian Institute of Science, IISc; Post-Doctoral research, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Faculty, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Founder and US Patent Agent, Mainline Intellectual Property LLC, Ardmore, Philadelphia USA). Syam has over 20 years experience in diverse areas of Science with domain knowledge in Life Sciences and Intellectual Property. Dr. Anand is also an inventor and budding entrepreneur. A rationalist, Dr. Anand enjoys science at all levels and advocates the use of scientific methods for answering all questions and solving all problems and make common people curious and interested in understanding their worlds.
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