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European Coalition on Homeopathic & Anthroposophic Medicinal Products

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Homeopathy at home: The development of self-medication

09 Oct 2015

The vast majority (98%) of  sales of homeopathic and anthroposophic medicinal products are for medicines with a non-prescription status, and total sales of these products represent 7% of all non-prescription products in the EU. Self-medication has always played a significant role in the widespread use of and demand for these medicines.

A new article, ‘Globules at Home: The History of Homeopathic Self-medication,’ published in the Oxford Journal, Social History of Medicine, presents the history of self-treatment in homeopathy. It focuses on the territories of the German Empire between 1870 and 1918, and considers why homeopathy was such an appropriate option for home medicine, how lay people acquired the knowledge to use homeopathic remedies at home in cases of illness and what remedies were available for practising homeopathy in private households.

The article shows that the therapeutic principles of homeopathy encouraged its use in households. Although rejected by most physicians, homeopathy has convinced millions of loyal users since the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was and still is considered ‘gentle’ and ‘safe’. Even though its efficacy and effects may have been doubted, homeopathy was able to produce, at least in the eyes of the patients, successful treatments. The growing interest and demand of lay people and the fact that they were using the special preparations on their own in their households has kept homeopathy alive until today.

Lay people could easily acquire knowledge to apply homeopathy successfully in cases of illnesses. The remedies used were generally harmless and easy to apply. Above all, they were no more expensive—and were often cheaper—than other remedies, and in some cases, they were more successfully applicable. Lay users did not tend to overestimate their abilities. Millions of lay advisory books were sold over the years, helping people to obtain the needed information to apply the homeopathic drugs themselves. People sought advice in books and, in case of severe illness, they called for a physician to aid them. But, especially in the nineteenth century and in rural areas, this was difficult. In such circumstances, medical chests provided lay people with a stock of the most commonly used homeopathic remedies.

Both allopathic and homeopathic professional physicians have always been sceptical about lay people helping themselves. In this respect, the advantage of homeopathic remedies was at least that they were not as dangerous as most of the allopathic drugs and offered a gentler way of self-help. Although we are not able to tell how many people used homeopathic remedies in their homes, it is clear that the use of this alternative method was a common and important part of the wide field of home remedies and their use in general and that people appreciated the advantages of homeopathy.