Pharmacy refers to the health care profession that deals with both the fields of health science as well as chemistry. It is defined as the profession of the art, science and economics of discovery and preparation from natural and synthetic sources, drugs and non-drug materials needed for the prevention, management and treatment of diseases in man and animals.
The word “pharmacy” was coined from the Greek word “pharmakon” meaning “medicine” or “drug“. Therefore, a pharmacist is a “medicine or drug man“. While the classes of professionals legally permitted to prescribe medications are physicians, dentists, veterinary doctors and senior registered nurses, pharmacists are required by law to be experts in the preparation, preservation, distribution, and handling of drugs.
- 1 Ancient methods used in the treatment of diseases
- 2 Contributions of ancient nations to pharmacy and medicine
- 3 Development of pharmacy from modern Europe and America
- 4 The future of pharmacy
- 5 A History of Pharmacy in Pictures
Ancient methods used in the treatment of diseases
Disease continues to trail man since the “Fall of Man” and he has continued to seek ways of curing them. Early studies show that man used clay, mud, leaves and supernatural means for alleviating symptoms of various diseases. Women were reported to be earliest gatherers of medicinal plants but the practice was taken up by men in the society. Below were ancient methods used in the treatment of diseases;
1. Empirical medical knowledge
This knowledge of medicine was based on observations and experience and not on scientific knowledge. This led to the discoveries of liquorice for cough in Babylonia, rhubarb roots as purgative in China and dried blueberries as anti-diarrhoea in Syria.
2. Roles of demons and spirits in disease
The use of incantations, charms, and herbs in “curing” diseases perceived to be spiritual was common in ancient practice of medicine. Also, use of foul smelling urine and dungs were believed to drive away evil spirits.
3. Resemblance (Signature) theory
As man’s curiosity grew, he began to link causative and curative agents and came up with the idea that a symptom of a disease is an indication that a plant or plant part will be effective for its treatment. It was more psychological than scientific. Examples include worm-like roots for treating worm infestation, heart-shaped leaves of Melissa for treating heart diseases, yellow juice of celandine for treating jaundice.
Though the ancient man’s quest for solution to disease was primitive and non-scientific, he had a measure of success motivated by observations, assumptions, and spiritism.
Contributions of ancient nations to pharmacy and medicine
Some notable nations contributed to the development of the medical profession in the early times. Important amongst them are
- Mesopotamia (2600 BC) – These people were credited to be the first to put medical knowledge in writing. Their medical discoveries ranged from oils, spices, plant extract, animal parts and sometimes spiritual incantations.
- Chinese (2000 BC) – The Chinese believed that diseases resulted from the imbalance in forces acting on humans and animals, thus produced herbal drugs with “spiritual” effects. They were credited to be first users of podophyllum, rhubarb, ginseng, cinnamon etc.
- Egyptians (2900 BC) – The Egyptians achieved a significant progress in medicinal knowledge and were credited with discoveries of various dosage forms namely decoction, enemas, infusions, inhalations, lotions etc. They also had plant drugs such as acacia, onions, aloe, castor oil, opium etc. They prepared drugs with mortar and pestle, hand mills and weighing balances etc.
- Greeks (1000 B. C.) – At the turn of the millennium, the Greeks had taken over the knowledge, starting with superstition but later turned to intellectual and rational use of drugs. “During the superstition era, Asklepios was believed to impact healing by touching one with his staff or serpent. His daughter, Hygeia, was also believed to have a healing portion and these emanated as the international symbol of the pharmacy profession”. Notable Greek philosophers that contributed to the development of the profession include Hippocrates, Theophrastus, Dioscorides, Galenus, and Pythagoras.
Development of pharmacy from modern Europe and America
Pharmacy profession experienced a vast growth in Europe especially with the evolution of new study areas like biochemistry, microbiology, and biology. The 19th century welcomed the discovery of important alkaloids such as morphine, quinine, and emetine. Notable contributors are highlighted below;
- Paracelsus (1493 – 1541 A.D., Switzerland): regarded as the reformer of medicine and foundation of biochemistry. He declared that “all drugs are poison, the difference is the dose”. He also introduced the extraction of secondary metabolites from medicinal herbs.
- Carl Scheele (1743 – 1786 A.D., Switzerland): a phytochemist of great repute. He isolated elements like manganese, molybdenum, and tungsten. He also discovered oxygen, chlorine, nitroglycerine, and glycerine.
- Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1897, France): he worked mainly on alcohol and produced vaccines for chicken pox, cholera, anthrax, and rabies.
- Robert Koch (1843 – 1910, Germany): he discovered the cause of anthrax (B. anthracis) and tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis). He developed different medium for culturing microorganisms.
- Alexander Flemming (1881 – 1995, Scotland): he was noted for his discovery of penicillin and his research in antibiotics.
These men shaped the atmosphere and further development of the pharmacy profession in Europe while their counterpart in the United States of America with great contributions were Louis Herbert, John Winthrop, Christopher Marshall and William Procter (Father of American Pharmacy).
The future of pharmacy
The trend of pharmacy practice shows that the practice is becoming more patient-oriented and no longer product based. The role of the pharmacist has shifted from the classical “lick, stick and pour” dispensary role to being an integrated member of the health care team directly involved in patient care. This challenge has brought about the emergence of clinical pharmacy in the curriculum and the introduction of the Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm D.) programme to train clinically oriented pharmacists who will aid in providing rational pharmaceutical drug services.
A History of Pharmacy in Pictures
- Bender, G. A. (1960). Great Moments in Pharmacy. United States: Parke, Davis & Company.
- Olurinola, P. F. (2003). The pharmacy profession: a focus on Nigeria: Onis annals of the professions. Np: Onis Excel Pub.
- Ubaka, C. (2013). Lecture on Personal Collection of Ubaka, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria.
This article “History of Pharmacy” discussed the origin of the word pharmacy, the history of pharmacy with respect to ancient methods used in the treatment of diseases and the history of pharmacy with respect to ancient nations that contributed to its growth. The article “History of Pharmacy” also showed the history of pharmacy in pictures.