Side effects: not such bad news?

I recently looked up the Wikipedia entry on side effects (here) to get a better understanding of how they are commonly perceived. I found “In medicine, a side effect is an effect, whether therapeutic or adverse, that is secondary to the one intended; although the term is predominantly (my emphasis) employed to describe adverse effects, it can also apply to beneficial, but unintended, consequences of the use of a drug.”

The article goes on to give examples of both sorts of side effect – the therapeutic and the adverse. Given the term is used most often to describe adverse effects, you might have expected a short list of therapeutic effects and a longer list of adverse ones, something likely to tally with most people’s experience of taking medicinal drugs. Instead, however, the reader is presented with a list of 13 manmade drugs and the unexpected but happy consequences of taking them, while the list of adverse effects highlights the dangers of 2 plants and one plant family without a single manmade drug being mentioned. Could this be reporting bias? Or even, given that one of the statements lacks a citation, drifting into the realms of fake news!

So how are the puzzling trio of a drug’s intended therapeutic effects, its unintended adverse effects and its unintended beneficial effects perceived from a homeopathic perspective? The core homeopathic principle regarding the therapeutic application of drugs, “what a substance can cause it can cure”, perhaps helps to clarify this. In all three of the given situations the body/mind system of the individual is being influenced in some way, implying all three can quite validly be grouped together as examples of “what a substance can cause”.

Since homeopathy’s inception in fact, homeopaths have been gathering and assimilating data on the effect a vast range of substances have on people. The traditional and most thorough way of doing this was (and still is) by giving the unknown drug to a group of relatively healthy volunteers in a process known as a “proving” – something ironically very similar if not identical to phase 1 of a clinical trial. There were (and again are), however, other sources of information. Of these, perhaps most notably, were the effects of both poisons and recreational drugs on the individual, about which there has always been extensive and well-documented information.

The insight unique to homeopathy is that all the effects associated with a particular drug (the good, the good but unexpected and the bad) can be grouped together to provide an increasingly full “picture” of the drug’s true therapeutic action. It is this entire “picture” that is sought in the patient who comes to the homeopath seeking help for her or his difficulties. When a good likeness is found between these difficulties and the known effects of a particular drug on the healthy, healing can finally take place.

Who put the coffee in the medicine cabinet?

A brief look at the use of coffee as a homeopathic remedy

There is an unusual group of symptoms in various homeopathic books that are worth a closer look. They are concerned with health difficulties arising from such things as emotional excitement, joy, pleasant surprises or even excessive laughter.

Initially these may sound a little odd – how could joy or a pleasant surprise affect us adversely? On reflection, however, it is easy to come up with situations that might cause us a degree of difficulty. Think, for example, how we may feel after the job offer of our dreams or following that unexpected lottery win – or what about the child the night before his or her birthday. All of these moments have the potential to affect us quite negatively and develop a disturbed state of mind and body including overexcitement, anxiety, anguish, general emotional and physical oversensitivity and perhaps above all sleeplessness.

In order to help someone suffering from these sorts of symptoms using homeopathy, the general homeopathic principle of “what a drug (or other active substance) can cause it can cure” is applied. While it may feel counterintuitive, this means that rather than giving the person in this situation a sedative as might be done in conventional medicine, we need to give them a stimulant – and this is where the coffee comes in. Sold in health food shops as “coffea”, it is an invaluable home remedy for these sorts of situations particularly when there is a good “match” between the symptoms coffee can cause in the healthy and the person who is suffering the consequences of their good fortune. The mind/body system is very rapidly but gently restored to a state of dynamic order. Surely one for the medicine cabinet?

Please note: due to space the above description of the remedy coffea is necessarily limited as it has a very wide therapeutic scope – there are many sources of further information online with more detailed advice about when it is most appropriate to use it. Please have a look at these.

“A case of insanity” – Tarentula hispania

This remarkable story appears in the chapter on the spider remedy Tarentula Hispania (prepared from the spider) in the book “homeopathic drug pictures” by Dr. M.L. Tyler (1857 – 1943). Dr Tyler worked at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital for 40 years.


1912 March 14th Miss P, a rather delicate girl of 18 years, tall and slender, with a sort of sallow complexion, called for treatment two months prior to her high-school graduation; had evidently been overworking. Headache intense for past week; frontal and occipital; increases after study; walking. Pain behind eyes. Toward evening feels worse all over. Sensitive to cold. Very irritable. Coughs frequently; increases when quiet. Better in warm room. Desires sweet things. Perspiration scant. After carefully working out the case with a repertory gave Sepia 200 (a homeopathic remedy). Result was splendid. She had no further trouble until October, when in a runaway with a horse, though not hurt, she was badly frightened.

1912 December 12th Amenorrhoea (period stopping). Loss of appetite. Constipation. Very chilly, but feels increase(?) in a close room. Cross and difficult to get along with: increases with heat; increases with cold; decreases when quiet. Headache when awakening. Desires cold. Stomach sensation of a load after eating. Because Sepia had formerly done good gave Sepia. As the remedy did not work to the satisfaction of the family, she did not return for a second prescription, but went to an old school doctor (= a traditional medical doctor).

With the aid of an osteopath he treated her for amenorrhoea until the middle of February 1913. Under the osteopathic and allopathic (= conventional, the opposite of homeopathic) treatment she had become very nervous, pale, and restless, and had emaciated from 103 lb. to 78 lb. The allopath advised her to go west for her health. The osteopath said she was almost insane. She was taken to Iowa City to a nerve specialist. He pronounced her in fair condition, but said she must eat to get some strength.

From the first she had refused to eat. He gave her strong stomach stimulants, similar to those she had been taking, but on the fourth day of his treatment she became so unmanageable that I was again summoned. I accepted the case only on condition that I might ask the aid of Dr. W.G. Allen, of Barnes City, whom I knew to be an accurate prescriber homoeopathically, and with whom I felt assured of ability to cure the girl.

Uncontrollable. The family could do nothing with her. Exalted; restless. Wanted everything to be in motion. Chased the cat from under the stove; “Oh, I can’t bear to see the lazy thing!” Ordered her step-father to chase himself around the house and not sit around all day. She was determined to do all the work, but everyone must move, and move rapidly. Insisted on serving at table; loaded the dishes full, but would eat nothing herself; feared she would get fat. Hurries; walks rapidly; must be active every minute; took up her school books and began to work on physics and geometry; forced her music teacher to give her lessons; practised for hours at the piano. Cross, hateful; appeared “possessed of the very old Nick”. Sleep impossible; would not go to bed before midnight; didn’t want to take time to go to bed. Never tired; feels “strung up” constantly. Cannot relax. Aversion to odour(?) of heat. Chilly; sensitive to cold. Weeping inclination constant; weeps much. Craves salt; heaps it on any small bite of food she eats. Craves and eats much chocolate candy. Would take the raw juice of lemon “to keep down the fat.” Nose bleed; bright red from the right nostril. Skin sallow. “Strawberry tongue.” Albumen (protein) in abundance in urine. Pulse 67, temperature 96.8, when standing; as soon as sits pulse drops to 60. From our study of the case with the repertory (= a homeopathic reference book), choice appeared to be between Natrum muriaticum (homeopathic remedy). and Sulphur (another type of remedy), but choice was difficult.

Sulphur 200 was selected. It did but little for her; it appeared merely to check the downward progress, but she made no improvement. As Dr. Allen was called to Rochester, I dreaded his departure, but he was glad to escape. After a few days gave Natrum muriaticum 200, as Sulphur appeared to be almost useless. The case remained unchanged. She continued to “run things high.” from early morn to midnight. Refused to eat. Was terrible to live with. Fearful of getting fat, though she weighed only 67 lb. and was dreadful to behold. Again studying the case, beginning with the rubric (= a collection of remedies linked to a symptom) REFUSES TO EAT, Arsenicum album (remedy) was in all the symptoms. Gave Arsenicum album 200 It dispelled her restlessness, warmed her, and helped. After a few days she became worse again Reporting the case to Dr. Kent, his telegram soon came: “Give the patient Tarentula hispanica 10M.” It suited exactly, and I hadn’t seen the picture, plainly as it had presented!

Three hours later her condition was completely changed. Instead of driving her mother from the room, not allowing her to touch her, she wanted to be with her mother every minute, as would almost any sick child. Thoroughly relaxed, she was quite a different person. Gradual improvement from the dose of Tarentula. Hands and feet became very dry and scaly about four weeks after beginning the Tarantula. After five weeks Dr. Kent advised Tarentula hispanica. 50M, About four weeks after the skin scaled and fuzzy hair three-quarters of an inch long appeared on the entire body except the palms and soles, but at present writing the face has cleared, the hair having entirely disappeared. She now appears perfectly well, but strength and flesh not fully restored.

This is a rare case, such as will not frequently be observed in private practice. It again illustrates the wonderful power of the potentized (= diluted) remedy when the exact similimum is used. But for Tarentula hispania this patient must have died in an asylum.