Talk:Pharmacy of Ancient Times

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

Introduction

Pharmacy and Pharmaceutics form a very important and substantial part of the medicine. As the proverb goes, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating and the efficacy of the medical science depends in a large measure on the nature of the medications administered". The richness of the medical advancement therefore has to be judged largely by the affluence in the variety as well as the quality of the pharmacopoeia and pharmacy.

Channels of Administration

A general principle is laid down that medicine should be administered by the channels through which it can reach the core of the disease at the earliest. In the today's world, the channels of administering a drug have increased, but they all fall within the above comprehensive precept.

The administration of the diseases through a certain channel gives desired results very quickly as belows[1]:

  • In the disease of stomach, the medicine is administered by the mouth.
  • In the diseases of the head, nasal medications is administered.
  • In diseases affecting the colon, the medications are given by the rectum.
  • In local diseases arising in the various regions of the body and in acute spreading affections, pimple and similar lesions, local applications are the best suitable to the part afflicted.

The Field of Pharmacology

The field of pharmacy includes the knowledge of all the things used as medicines. One should know the following parameters of each drug used as medicine[2]:

  • Nature
  • Quality
  • Efficacy
  • Season of availability
  • Examination
  • Procurement
  • Preservation
  • Medicated
  • Dosage
  • Administration

Types of Medicines

Atreya has classified the drugs into fifty classes according to their properties and each class contains ten drugs.[3] The physician, the drugs, the attendant and the patient constitute the four basic factors of the treatment.[4] This is the simplest, easiest and most systematic classification. Among the four requisites for curing a disease, medicinal drug is as eminent as the physician.

Caraka classifies medicine into two kinds. These two superb concepts of Ayurveda were held in such a high esteem that they obtained recognition as two special branches of the Ayurveda. The group of drugs for positive health are sub-divided into further two parts:

  1. Vitalizer - Medicine that promotes the vigor in healthy people
  2. Virilific - Medicine that cures the disease in the ailing.

Vitalizers

Vitalizers aid in achieving long life, resilient memory and intelligence, strong immunity, youth, lustrous complexion, sweet voice and optimum strength of the body. The vitalizers are so called because they help to replenish the vital fluids of health.[5]

Virilific

While going through the description of these two processes, get an information about the high ideology and practicality of men in ancient times. While explaining the word Rasayana, Atreya describes the properties of a Rasayana drug.

The virilifics were used for the purpose of producing progeny of the highest caliber. Progeny was considered to be the preserver of the traditions of ideals and aspirations of men. The use of virilifics was recommended solely for this purpose. Moreover, they gave positive health, immunity against inroads of diseases and retarded aging.

Significance of Few Medicinal Drugs

Caraka enumerates the necessary qualifications of a good drug as under[6]:-

  1. Abundance
  2. Applicability
  3. Usability in multifarious modes
  4. Richness of quality

These four are said to be the tetrad of desiderata in drugs.

Significance of Long Pepper

Drug action is fully described in Caraka. For instance in Caraka Samhita, we find concise but full description of long pepper.[7] It is pungent in taste, sweet after digestion, heavy, neither too unctuous nor too hot, deliquescent and esteemed as medicine. It produces beneficial and baneful effects. If administered at the proper time and measures, it induces a very beneficial effect of the body. But if continued for over a long period, it results in morbid cumulative effect of arousing Kapha. It aggravates Pitta on account of its hot property and is not able to allay Vata because of its meagreness of unctuous and hot qualities. Due to these qualities, long pepper should not be used in excess.[8]

Similar descriptions of salts and alkali are given. We find detailed actions and properties of various kinds of milk in Caraka Satra-sthana.[9] A detailed description of effects of wines in the body is given in Caraka.[10]

Preparation of Drugs

As per Caraka

On the topic about the preparations and effects of the drugs, Caraka says that there should be a proper medication which requires to be taken in small dose, quick in action and curative of even an excessive degree of morbidity. Medicine should be easy to take, light in digestion, palatable, pleasing, curative of the particular disease, not harmful even if complications arise, not very depressant and possessed of the most agreeable smell, color and taste.[11]

Rules for Preparing Drugs

The prescriptions of drugs were arranged in such a way that it contains the above mentioned qualities. The processes for these preparations were explained and rules for nomenclature of these preparations also were framed in order to bring about a certain uniformity. Rules were also framed regarding the use of drugs containing diametrically opposite properties in these preparations, if it was found necessary to add a particular drug for the sake of taste, appearance or smell. It has been laid down that a compound preparation is named after the basic drug which forms its principal active ingredient.

In the prescription of a compound, the emetic nut form the basic or principal drug while wines and any other things occupy the secondary role as constituents, vehicles or excipients. They followed the main drug in the prescription just as the attendants follow the king. Even the antagonism of this potency does not vitally impair the main effects of the principal drugs, while admixture of drugs of similar potency intensifies its action. The use of articles that are of antagonistic potency to the disease is allowed in a drug for the purpose of imparting pleasant color, taste, touch and odor suitable to the conditions of a disease.[12]

Symbolic Representation of Drugs

In the modern method of writing a prescription the letter R, a symbol for 'recipe', is always found at the beginning. This sign or symbol is called superscription. The symbol 'R' is the symbol of the planet 'Jupiter'. It is better to use symbols rationally than blindly.

Ayurvedic Aspect for Drugs

Ayurveda enjoins on the patient to chant some sacred hymns while taking the medicine. These sacred hymn are given in Caraka.[13] The chanting of a hymn would not seem obsolete in the present scenario, but we must probe behind the apparently unique practice and try to evaluate the concept of chanting. This can be inferred only if we study the other ideologies of the same period.

Minuteness and singleness are the two qualities of a mind. Mind cannot work at two places at the same time. So one must concentrate on the work on hand otherwise it would not be successful. Based on this reasoning, the chanting of a hymn becomes helpful in shifting the attention of the mind busy occupied in other affairs to concentrate on the medicinal dose. Therefore Atreya says:-

If a person after cleansing his mind of its impurities like passion and other inauspicious sentiments and concentrating his mind on the treatment, takes this dose, it brings about the most desirable results.

Technique of Prescription

The second stage or step in a prescription is the writing of it. It consists of the basis or the chief ingredient, adjuvant and corrigent. The nomenclature of the prescriptions is based on the names of the chief ingredients followed by the compounding of other ingredients, e. g. In English, 'Co' is the shortened form of compound used for this purpose e. g 'Pulvis glycyrrhiza co'. This similarity in the nomenclature of prescriptions was prevalent both in the East and the West. This manifests that science of drugs is one only but the ignorance can lead to manifold differences.

Therapeutics

In therapeutics, the mere knowledge of the properties and actions of the drugs in the prescription is not the end in itself. Therapeutics is an artistic science. Caraka says:
The art of prescription depends upon the knowledge of dosage and time and on this art, in return, depends success; hence the skillful physician stands ever superior to those possessing merely a theoretical knowledge of drugs.[14] Though treating with the right prescriptions, yet if the physician is ignorant of the knowledge of place, he cannot achieve success in the treatment. There exist many differences in the nature of men with regards to age, vitality, constitution, etc.[15]

The preparations should be made in accordance with the doses. We generally believe that the standardization is the last word in modern medical science, but we shouldn't ignore that accuracy in measurement is the first step in scientific progress. Logical reasoning for everything and accuracy was the motto of the scientific age of the country which began about 600 B. C. The science of logic and Sankhya[16] was written due to this concept.

Dietary Regulations

The laxity in the accuracy of measurement was not a practice in that era. In fact only the accuracy and exact measures of medicinal doses was not the only criteria, even food was to be taken in measured quantities. While narrating the principle of hygiene, the first chapter on the subject begins with the topic on measured quantity of food while sick. The word measured has been derived from the word 'mātrā'. While the English word 'dose' is derived from word 'to give'. The English word simply denotes give; while the Sanskrit word asserts 'measures'. This proves that accuracy in measuring is emphasized more in the Ayurvedic term. The food was required to be taken in measured quantities.

Determining the Dosage

The complete treatment depends on dosage. There can be no compounding of drugs without assuring it's measure of dosage. The dosage of medicines is dependent upon the individual patient. An under-dose of medication cannot cure the disease just as a small quantity of water cannot quench a great fire. While the medicine given in over-dose will prove harmful just as excessive watering harms the crops. So, after carefully considering the security of the disease and the strength of the medication, the physician should administer it, neither in too large dose nor in too small dose.

The dosage of drugs given in the section is with the reference to moderate-bowelled persons of average age and strength. This should be regarded as the standard for pharmaceutical purposes and larger or smaller doses have to be prepared keeping that standard in view. The drug should be administered after a full investigation of the morbid humors, the medications, clime and season, homologation of the patient, his digestive power, psychic conditions, age and vitality. The after-potion concept of Ayurveda is in accordance with the theory of humors. The dose of medicine was to be followed by some after-potion prescribed as a corrective to the medication in accordance with the constitutional tendency of the patient or the humoral imbalance of the disease-condition.

Toxicology

Toxicology is one of the chief branches of Ayurveda. We need not reiterate that the knowledge of toxicology in the country was far superior to that of other countries. When Alexander invaded India,[17] he had ordered that whenever any treatment for poisoning was necessary, only an Indian physician should be called. This is one outstanding proof of the superiority of toxicology in the country. Poison girls were reared to be used against enemies. It was the practical application of the theory of immunization in the body by gradual and constant administration of poison. The country was abounded in poisonous animals and vegetation. Kings were always under constant vigilance against poisoning and so a physician was always in attendance to protect the king against food poisoning etc.

During wars, poisoning was resorted to for killing individuals as well as for mass murders. The knowledge of snake poison was also profound. There are plenty of snakes in the country and hence the knowledge about snakes and toxicology came to be known as a special branch of study. The classification, recognition, description of the serpents is astonishing. Snake poison was used as a medicine also. Atreya has prescribed it for the incurable condition of Tridosa Udara, mostly a malignant growth.

The science of toxicology was the result of varied experiments. The poisonous drug or poisoned food was entrenched by the senses, fire, by mixing them with water and other substances and also by administering it to beasts and birds. We have findings that about 25 beasts and birds were thus used in such experiments.

Incompatibility of Drugs

The list of terms describing actions of drugs surprises us even today. We find more than 500 terms used in this connection. Atreya, while fully recognizing the physical, pharmaceutical and physiological incompatibilities, goes further and describes 18 points which should be considered in deciding the incompatibility of a drug.

That substance is unwholesome which is incompatible from the point of view of country, season, gastric fire, measure, homogenization, Vata and other body humors, preparation, potency, bowel tendency state of the patient, rules of eating, things to be avoided or observed, cookery combination, palatability, richness of quality and rules of eating. Food as well as medicine should preferably incompatible with eighteen points.

The Golden Period of Ayurveda

The golden period of Ayurveda was from 600 B. C to 600 A. D. Pharmacy had reached the scientific stage at this period as denoted by Caraka and Susruta. Caraka further declares that then they evolved the all-comprehensive concept. According to both the masters of this science, Caraka and Susruta, there is no substance in the world which is not medicine. They knew the uses of practically all the known substances.

Classification of Basic Drugs

The source of drugs can be classified differently into three groups namely:

  1. Animals - Honey, milk, bile, fat, marrow, blood, flesh, excrement, urine, skin, semen, bone-sinews, horns, nails, hooves, hair and inspissation bile these are the substances used in medicine from the animal world.
  2. Minerals - Gold, ores, the fine metals, sand, lime, red and yellow arsenic, gems, red ochre and antimony are the mineral products used in medicine.
  3. Vegetables - The vegetable group is further divided into four classes. The fruits, creepers, flowery fruits and herbs. Root, bark, pith, exudation, stalk, juice, sprouts, alkalies, milk, fruit, flower, ash, oils, thorns, leaves, buds, bulbs and off-shoots are the plant products used in medicine.[18]

Geographical Significance of Drugs

In addition to these classifications, clear instructions were given regarding the kind of country, season and clime of culling of herbs, selections of herbs and the methods of storage. Regarding country, we have a detailed descriptions in Caraka Kalpa.[19] Place or clime is of three kinds.

  1. Jungle
  2. Wetland
  3. Ordinary land

Description of all the kinds of land is based on the season and time of culling the herbs we have in Caraka.[20] Out of them, the drugs should be culled as put forth in their proper season and have attained their fullness of growth, taste, potency and smell. In this verse, the detailed descriptions are given as to how and when the herbs should be culled. Minute instructions regarding the selection of drugs are given in Caraka Cikitsā-sthāna.[21]

The best habitats for the medicinal plants is the mountain ranges of Himalayas. The fruits are grown in the Himalayas that are therefore to be properly culled every season, rich with juice and potency, mellowed by the sun, wind, shade and water. It should not be nibbled by bird or beast, unspoiled and unmarked with cuts or diseases.

Storage of Himalayan Herbs

We shall now describe the modes of administration and the excellent effects of these fruits. Very valuable instructions are given in Caraka Kalpasthana regarding the storage of herbs. It says that the herbs should be stored in the houses with the doors opening to the east or the north and the rooms should be windproof, fireproof, waterproof, moisture-proof, smoke-proof, dust-proof, mice-proof an quadruped.

Determinants of Herbs

In order to ascertain the action of the drugs on the human body, the great sages evolved the five determinants viz., taste, quality, potency, post-digestive effect and specific action. This system enabled them to study completely all the drags necessary for the therapeutics. These drugs were chiefly administered through the natural channel of the mouth and hence the arrangement of Rasa or tastes came into prominence, the sense of taste played an important part in oral administration of drugs. This arrangement and metaphysics of taste in six categories is a specialty of Ayurveda and it has been so arranged as to fit well arithmetically to the Tridosa theory.

The properties and actions of inedible drugs were experienced by senses other than that of taste and so a comprehensive scheme of twenty or more kinds of properties was evolved which could be tested by other sense-organs. Some drugs acted more powerfully than usually expected and so or potency of drug became one of the determining factors.

Vipakgyan

Another peculiarity of Ayurveda is its theory that the drugs while entering the body submit themselves to the process of digestion. As a background of this theory, the concept of Ayurveda that diet and drugs fall in the same category is of significant attention. The Upanisads consider the food also as medicine. The difference between the diet and the drugs is not fundamental, taste is predominant in diet while potency is predominant in drugs and it is a natural corollary that just as the diet gets digested in the system, even drug also is digested in the system. It is on this sound fundamental theory that Ayurveda forbids the administration of another drug before the first drug is digested. In this manner, the post-digestive effect, the form that a drug is turned into after being digested and its action on the body are apprehended. These forms the subject matter of vipakgyan.

Action of Drug

Last but not the least comes the specific action of a drug. Even in this modern scientific age, no scientific explanation can be given for the specific properties of a certain drugs because they are beyond the ken of the present stage of science. When the knowledge of specific action attains perfection, there will be no need of research but so long as there is room for research, we must admit that the knowledge is incomplete.

These five-fold deliberations on drugs cover the whole field in a comprehensive way. As Ayurveda has conceived diet and drug to be one, the properties and the actions of the substance that comprise our diet have been subjected to the same process of study and exposition as those of the drugs. This is really a specialty and peculiarity of Ayurveda.

The Varieties of Preparation

Base for Preparing Drugs

Caraka in the first chapter of Kalpa-sthana tells something more regarding the varieties of preparations. One should consider that drugs differ with respect to land, season, source, flavor, taste, potency, post-digestive effect, specification and even the patients also differ with respect to their body, morbid tendency, constitution, age, vitality, gastric fire, proclivities, homologation and stage of disease. Caraka has described in Kalpa chapter six hundred purgative preparations that are pleasant in their variety of smell, color, taste and touch of drugs, although the extent of the possible preparations from these drugs are innumerable.[22]

Preparation of Drugs

The various processes in practice now are nearly all represented in the aphoristic list given by Caraka. Preparation is the process performed to modify the natural properties of substances. This process also modifies the properties of substances radically. This modification is brought about by dilution, application of heat, clarification, emulsification, storing, maturing, flavoring, impregnation, preservation and the material of receptacle.

This shows that the art of pharmacy had reached to almost optimum level in those days. The ten arts described by Sukracarya comprises practically all the processes known to modern pharmacy. A full fledged culinary art could only be possible in India, and the works of onand[23] bear testimony to our statement. Even today, India would perhaps stand first is the world so far as the art of cooking is concerned.

Suitable Factors for Drug Preparation in the Country

The manufacturing of sugar was a sort of monopoly in India. When the soldiers of Alexander saw sugar for the first time, they called it as sweet chalk. Sugar began to be exported to the West in greater quantities after the twelfth century of the Christian era, but even then it was imported by those countries as a medicine and was available in the market at a very high price.

The use of spices native to the tropical zone is a distinguishing feature of India. Cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, saffron etc. were more responsible for foreign invasions of India than any political or cultural motives of invasion. Italy, Arabia. Portugal, Holland and England fought wars, devised strategies and organized plunders to capture this trade of spices.

Even the sense of smell in the oriental is more sensitive than that of the occidental and this has played a huge part in the pharmaceutics of our country. Nature as well as human characteristics vary in different countries. The Himalayas produce more of sweet smelling flora while the Alps is abound in flora beautiful and charming only to look at.

A Vaidya always used to be the presiding officer of the royal kitchen. These forces combined to evolve medicated food which was the medicine and food in one. Besides, the practice of administering some medicine to princes and the aristocrats varying in accordance with their tastes and pursuits of pleasure, gained favor. The abundance of sugar resulted in devising of varied preparations of wine.

The country was well conversant with the utility of salt. Caraka enumerates 15 kinds of salts. They prepared various kinds of alkalies and alkaline salts from vegetable, animal and mineral products. The preparations of medicated drugs was common in the country in those days. Infact pharmacy was the special feature of the country during that era. In addition to these special factors, the vastness of the country, the variety of seasons, the progressive period of civilization and the increase of pleasure pursuits etc., gave a great impetus to the progress of pharmacy.

Time for Administering Drugs

The time for the administration of drugs should be fixed according to morbidity, constitution, age and season. Ayurveda gives the following ten times for administering the medicine:

  1. On empty stomach
  2. Pre-prandial
  3. Post-prandial
  4. In-between the two meals
  5. In the middle of the meal
  6. Mixed with the meal
  7. Beginning and end of the meal
  8. Repeatedly
  9. With each morsel of food
  10. In-between morsels

This is followed by a detailed exposition as to why the medicines are to be taken at particular periods. The brief survey of pharmacy, theoretically and practically in ancient era, would suffice to give an idea of the development of the science in its multiple aspects. Some of the aspects which have not been excelled by the modern science are also a part of ancient pharmacy. The rich ancient heritage needs a proper research so that we can proudly hold it before the scientific world and declare it as one of our richest contributions to the science.

Vedic Period

Sections of Veda

Veda is believed to be having six branches. These branches are:

  1. Phonetics
  2. Grammar
  3. Etymology
  4. Astrology
  5. Canons of ritual
  6. Prosody

Kalpa

Out of these, the canons of ritual is defined as the order of rituals which is spoken of as Kalpa. Ayurveda was considered to be at par with the Vedas. As we have section of Kalpa in Ayurveda similarly we also have a section on Kalpa in Veda too. 

Peculiarity of Pharmacy in Vedic Era

In Vedic period, we find that single herbs, minerals and animal substances were prescribed. But the prescriptions were not compound during that time meaning composed of more than one substance which is a regular practice in this era. This peculiarity existed in the pre-historic period. At that time simple prescriptions were the order of the day throughout the world. It is probable that magic and black art were practiced to some extent in the Misra Desa[24] which is called the Syama, Syava or the black county. It is likely that the word Syama might be the origin of the words kimia, alchemy and chemistry.

Preservation of Corpse

The secret prescription for the preservation of mummies is an instance to prove their advanced knowledge in chemical pharmacy. We are getting more and more enlightenment on Mohenjo-daro and from the findings that have come to light we learn that ghlajlt[25] and other drugs have been found there even after thousands of years of oblivion. This definitely shows that this special branch of knowledge had developed in the country in primitive years.

The art of preserving dead bodies was not unknown in ancient India. In Ramayana, Ayodhya-kanda, we find that the corpse of king Dasaratha was preserved in medicated oil. In Visnu Purana we find that the corpse of Nimi was preserved by being embalmed with fragrant oils and resins.

In Kasi-khanda, there is the description of the corpse of a Brahman's mother being preserved in the following manner. The corpse was washed and then embalmed in yaksakadarma which is a specially medicated balm and enveloped severally with Netra-vastra,[26] silk cotton, colored cloth and Nepalese blanketing. The corpse was conveyed in a copper coffin from Rameswara to Kasi.

References

  1. Caraka Cikitsa XXX, 294-295
  2. Caraka Vimana VIII-87
  3. Caraka Sutra IV, 8
  4. Caraka Sutra IX, 3
  5. Caraka Cikitsa I, 7-8
  6. Caraka Sutra. IX, 7
  7. Vimana-sthana, chapter I, 16
  8. Caraka Samhita Vimana 1,16
  9. Chapter I, 105-113
  10. Cikitsa sthana chapter XXIV, verses 29 to 73.
  11. Caraka, Siddhi sthana, VI, 15-16
  12. Caraka Kalpa XII, 43-46
  13. Kalpa-sthana I, 14
  14. Caraka Sutra. II, 16
  15. Caraka Cikitsa XXX, 320
  16. It means snag.
  17. It was in 323 B C.
  18. Caraka Sutra I, 68-72
  19. Caraka Kalpa 1-8
  20. Caraka Kalpa sthana I, 10
  21. Cikitsā Sthāna I 38-40
  22. Caraka, Kalpa 1,1-6
  23. It is called as science of cooking.
  24. It is present Egypt.
  25. It is the mineral pitch.
  26. It is flowered muslin.
  • The Caraka Samhita published by Shree Gulabkunverba Ayurvedic Society, Jamnagar, India