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.