Brief History of Pharmacology & Pharmacy


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Pharmacology evolved as an independent science only in early 19th century. It is really interesting to explore the history of pharmacy. The making of medicines is rooted in antiquity in various parts of the world. Research studies attest to the use of medicinal plants since pre-history. We are certainly aware of sanjeevani buti, the medicinal herb carried by Lord Hanuman in our ancient mythological lore dating back to over six thousand years!

Sumerian records for prescriptions of medicines have been found on ancient tablets! So also ancient Egyptian pharmacological knowledge exists on various papyri like Ebers Papyrus of 1550 BC and Edwin Smith Papyrus of 16th century BC. Ancient Greece too – before, during and after Hippocrates – had experts in medicinal plants. Diocles of Carystus in 4th century BC is considered the source of Greek pharmacotherapeutic treatises. Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides authored volumes entitled De Materia Medica that became the foundation for medieval texts and even Islamic medicine.

De materia medica eventually also influenced the Chinese medicine manual Shennong Bencao Jing or The Divine Farmer’s Herb-Root Classic in 1st century AD.  Japanese medicine men at the end of the Asuka period (538-710) and early Nara period (710-794) were akin to modern pharmacists. Baghdad saw its first pharmacies established in 754 under the Abbasid Caliphate and by 9th century these pharmacies became state-regulated.

Earliest known compilation of medicinal substances in Indian traditional medicine dates to 3rd or 4th century AD and are attributed to Sushruta, the famed physician of 6th century BC. In ancient India medicines were derived from vegetable, animal and mineral origins. They were prepared by experts who usually kept their knowledge secret. The traditional Indian system of medicine declined during the Muslim rule with Arabic or Unani system taking over.

The advances made in the Middle East in botany and chemistry led medicine in medieval Islam substantially to develop pharmacology. Al-Biruni (973-1050) wrote one of the most valuable Islamic works entitled Kitab al-Saydalah or The Book of Drugs offering knowledge of properties of drugs and outlined the role of pharmacy and the functions and duties of the pharmacist! Ibn Sina too described no less than 700 preparations, their properties, mode of action and their indications in his – The Canon of Medicine. Subsequently, the works of Al-Maridini of Baghdad and Cairo, and Ibn al-Wafid (1008–1074), were both printed in Latin, over fifty times!

In Europe pharmacy-like shops of apothecaries began appearing in the 12th century. In 1240 emperor Frederic II issued a decree by which the physician’s and the apothecary’s professions were separated. The western or Allopathic system of medicine came into India with the British rule and got state patronage. Prior to 1940 drugs were imported from Europe. It was only later that drugs of this system began to be manufactured in India.

In 1930, Government of India appointed a committee to look into the problems of Pharmacy in India and recommend measures to be taken. The committee published its report in 1931 and reported that there was no recognized specialized profession of Pharmacy. A set of people known as compounders were filling this critical gap. Soon after publication of the report Prof. M.L.Schroff started pharmaceutical education at Banaras Hindu University.

The United Province Pharmaceutical Association was established in 1935 that later became Indian Pharmaceutical Association. A code of ethics was drafted by the Pharmacy Council of India to guide pharmacists as to how to conduct themselves in relation to their patrons, public, profession and patients. This then lent nobility to the profession of pharmacy that became supportive for healing and treating people. The government till date restricts the practice of pharmacy to professional pharmacists. In fact just like the Hippocratic Oath for doctors, pharmacists too take a Pharmacists Oath!

I promise to do all I can to protect and improve the physical and moral well-being of society, holding the health and safety of my community above other considerations. I shall uphold the laws and standards governing my profession, avoiding all forms of misinterpretation, and I shall safeguard the distribution of medical and potent substances.

Knowledge gained about patients, I shall hold in confidence and never divulge unless compelled to do so by law.

I shall strive to perfect and enlarge my knowledge to contribute to the advancements of pharmacy and the public health.

I furthermore promise to maintain my honour in all transactions and by my conduct never bring discredit to myself or to my profession nor to do anything to diminish the trust reposed in my professional brethren.

May I prosper and live long in favour as I keep and hold to this, my Oath, but if violated these sacred promises, may the reverse be my lot.