The History of Medicine: Where Pharmacies Came From

The History of Medicine: Where Pharmacies Came From

Pharmacies have served as important centers of healing and growth for humankind since we first started improving the world around us. Clues abound as to ancient cultures’ use of plants and other substances to alleviate pains and heal wounds, and this fundamental understanding of Earth’s natural restoratives eventually developed into the crucial and complex art and science cultivated by pharmacists.

While you’re saving money ordering your medications from a trusted Canadian pharmacy, consider the origins of the modern-day pharmacy, and how far we’ve come since humans first started developing medicines for their ills.

Pharmacy Studies by the Ancients

The first major Western civilizations began experimenting with pharmacy and pharmacology early in their tenure and were careful to record most of their discoveries, so we can learn from their knowledge even today.

Ancient Egyptians were diligent in their studies of pharmacy, writing everything on their papyrus scrolls. One particularly important document, “The Papyrus Ebers,” explained the applications of more than 700 different drugs

The Ancient Greeks has groups of scholars, called rhizotomoi, devoted to studying the medicinal properties of plants. One of the more prominent scholars in this field was Theophrastus, who has been called the father of botany due to his extensive lectures on the flora of the region. Hundreds of treatises focusing on plants and their use on medicine were based upon the discoveries of these scholars and Theophrastus, and in fact, much of what developed in pharmacy studies in the following centuries were based on plants studied by the Greeks.

Many of the movers and shakers in physical anatomy in Ancient Rome were also crucial to discoveries in pharmacy. Dioscorides was attentive to his environment and relentless at his note-taking; he followed Roman armies to foreign lands to study foreign medical practices and medicinal herbs. Additionally, Galen, the godfather of medicine, was famous for teaching his students about preparing and administering medical compounds.

The Apothecaries of the Middle Ages

There were major advances in the Middle East during the medieval period, and these discoveries found their way over into Western Europe scholarship through trade. Middle Eastern scientists spent long hours investigating the fields of botany and chemistry, developing techniques and compounds that led directly to more advanced pharmaceuticals to treat society’s maladies. During this period, the first handbook for pharmacists, called “The Book of Drugs,” was created; not only were drugs and their uses outlined, but the author Al-Biruni outlined the responsibilities and functions of the pharmacist for the first time in history.

Meanwhile, in Europe, monasteries strove to preserve and build on the wealth of pharmaceutical knowledge gained by the Western world’s smartest scholars. Scribes worked tirelessly to copy the texts of the past and present in order to safeguard their information, and specially selected monks were trained to understand and practice the science of pharmacy to pass the knowledge on to future generations. Perhaps most interesting are the vast gardens these monasteries cultivated medicinal plants in order to study them more thoroughly — some of which still flourish today.

Apothecaries began to open on every street corner, selling cures to the most common ailments. Even during this period, apothecaries held many of the responsibilities of modern-day pharmacies. Not only did apothecaries sell specialized potions and tonics to cure disease and relieve pain, but they sold sweets and toys for children, fabrics for clothing and trinkets from around the world sold as gifts. Eventually, pharmacists started to form groups to regulate and standardize the sale of drugs.

It was also during this time that various monarchs began making laws demarcating the difference between physicians and pharmacists.

Modern Pharmacy and Pharmacology

Modern Pharmacy and Pharmacology

Pharmacy began to change significantly in the 20th century, when governments around the world began to impose regulations on the marketing and sale of drugs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration closely monitors the claims of the effects of all medicines; in 1951, the FDA began requiring prescriptions from physicians for the sale of stronger and more dangerous medications.

Pharmacists continue to be an invaluable resource for the public. Pharmacists ensure that their patients are receiving the correct dosage of their medicines and instruct them on the correct way to take their medicines to prevent harsh and unintended side effects. Additionally, pharmacists are often more available than physicians to give advice about various types of medication.

As pharmacies move online, many are losing their impact as an invaluable resource to the community. However, caring and conscientious pharmacies still strive to uphold their responsibilities to their patients by providing information through blog posts (like this one), Web pages and customer service lines. In this way, the community retains its source of medical information and also gains all the benefits of ecommerce, including lower prices and to-the-door delivery. As we move further into the 21st century, it’s difficult to predict how pharmacies will change next; but based on the drastic improvements throughout history, it will probably be in a positive direction.