Friday, August 10, 2012

Ants and Other Great Medicines

 Cabinet of curiosities

Great Medicines is an unpublished book by Gary J. Lockart (1942-2001)


The medicine of our ancestors was a wonderful mixture of trash and treasures. Most of it was imagination and superstition, but there were real discoveries as well. The twentieth century saw scientists delving into the molecular basis of life. In spite of all their discoveries, some of humanity’s basic medical conditions seemed to be almost hopeless. The newer doctors derided the practices of the past, for they believed that their answers were more scientific. 

We have forgotten the old medical secrets, and they have been nearly left out of medical history, but history should be studied. In an earlier era a prescription might read: “Rx: take two leeches, one spider and a dozen ants.” Now we are educated and we know these as relics of the past. Yet ants were once valued as a cure for arthritis. Spider venom holds promise as a cure for muscular dystrophy. Leeches are used in modern surgery for reattaching ears and fingers. 

Natural history print "Anthropodes"

Superstition is sometimes relative to our level of examination of it. In 1929 a Scottish bacteriologist wrote: “The penicillin molds are pleasant enough. We are content to use them to bring our Camembert and Roquefort cheeses into a pleasant condition of ripeness and in that respect I would not miss them. But beyond that and especially with a view to therapy in medicine, these molds are completely worthless.” Fifteen years later these molds were producing large quantities of penicillin, our first wonder drug! From Helmuth Bottcher’s Wonder Drugs - A History of Antibiotics. 

In 1992 the Declaration of Helsinki of the World Medical Association read: “In the treatment of the sick person the physician must be free to use a new diagnostic and therapeutic measure, if in his or her judgement, it offers hope of saving life, re-establishing health or alleviating suffering.” The AMA signed this declaration. If we cannot cure people with operations and unaffordable medicines, we need to look at the past and see what others have used. 

The idea of wonder drugs permeates medicine today. I am told that a newly minted doctor has spent nearly a year of schooling memorizing thousands of drugs and their indications in order to give instant advice. Sir William Osler once wrote: “One of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine. Remember how much you do not know. Do not put strange medicines into your patients.” 

Healing power exists in the mind and this is why much of ancient medicine worked. The modern placebo is an adaptation of an ancient practice of some type of visualization, the doing of which brings relief or healing. A second part of healing exists in stimulation of the body. This may be walking, exercise, or applied externally as in massage to stimulate the muscles and nerves. A third part of healing is in biochemically active compounds coming from plants, insects and nature. This area has received the most publicity. 

Paracelsus wrote: “The power of imagination is a great factor in medicine. It may produce diseases in man and in animals and it may cure them. But this is not done by the powers of symbols or characters made in wax or being written on paper, but by an imagination, which perfects the will. All the imagination of man comes from the heart. The heart is the seed of the microcosm, and from that seed the imagination proceeds into the macrocosm. Thus the imagination of man is a seed that becomes materialized or corporeal.” 

I began my study of medicine in 1976 as a quest for forgotten herbal remedies. As I worked my way through millions of pages of literature, I began to save odd notes. This book is a collection of these notes. Many items could be of value today, but most need the touch of modern science. This book is not written as a medical advice book, but as an exploration of history. In case of illness, see a qualified health practitioner. 

By Gary J. Lockart

Also of interest

This book is available online in a pdf format
Image source here and here