Evolution / History of Pharmacy

The early man used crude drugs from plant, animal and mineral sources to cure diseases. Early man treated an external wound by pouring water on it, or by covering the wound with a fresh leaf. Sometimes mud was applied on the wound. From experience, humans learnt that certain crude drugs were more effective than others and from these beginnings came the practice of drug therapy. Many early races of people believed that disease was caused by the entry of demons or evil spirits into the body. So treatment was done with spiritual incantations and some plant materials were administered to the patient. Generally the wise man or woman of the tribe, who had knowledge regarding the crude drug plant, was asked to treat the disease. He / She prepared the medicine / remedy from the crude drug and gave it to the diseased person. Thus the art of apothecary originated. It was believed that the apothecary who prepared remedies from crude drugs had connections with the world of spirits. It was believed that God’s grace, absence of evil spirits, healing intent of the apothecary and observing ceremonies were required for the drugs to work effectively. Because of this the tribal apothecary was respected and worshiped. Many times the apothecary became the tribal leader. Many of the failures in treatment by apothecary were due to wrong selection of drugs, under dosage or over dosage and sometimes poisoning. His success was due to experience, coincidence of drug selection, natural healing, and placebo effects. Even today placebo products (no drug in product) are given to patients, and are used in research. As time passed the art of apothecary combined with priestly functions and the priest magician / physician became the healer of body and soul. Hence in early history tribal leaders / priests performed as a physician cum pharmacist.

Through history many individuals contributed to advancement of health sciences. “Hippocrates” a Greek physician gave descriptions of hundreds of drugs and he redefined “Pharmakon” as a purifying remedy for good only. (Previously it was defined as a drug that can be used for good or evil). “Dioscoridies” a Greek physician and botanist described a number of drugs which have use in medicine. He described the process of identifying, collecting natural drugs, storage methods, detection of adulterants etc, now this area of pharmacy is called Pharmacognosy. “Galen” a Greek Pharmacist - Physician tried to create a perfect system of physiology, pathology and treatment. His medical writings include descriptions of a number of crude drugs, drug formulas, and methods of compounding. Galen formulations were followed for over 1500 years and this field of preparations was once called Galen Pharmacy, now it is pharmaceutics. With time variety of drugs increased and compounding became more complex and specialists were needed to prepare medicinal products. Pharmacy was officially separated from medicine in 1240 AD by Emperor Frederick II of Germany. Pharmacist was required to prepare reliable drugs of uniform quality according to their art. A Swiss Physician and chemist “Paracelsus” (1493-1541) believed that it was possible to prepare a specific medicinal agent for each disease. Later research was carried out in Laboratories to synthesize drugs. “Paracelsus” transformed pharmacy from a profession based on botanical science to a profession based on chemical science. With time, knowledge of basic sciences increased which were applied to Pharmacy. Today we have different branches of pharmacy catering to various needs. By Eswar Gupta M Chalapathi Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences,