Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann was born April 10, 1755, in Meissen, Saxony (now in Germany). As a child, Hahnemann studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew, history, physics, botany, and medical science, taken under the wing of teachers who recognized his academic gifts.
His father, who disdained formal education, would often withdraw his son from these "thinking lessons.” But Hahnemann persisted, drawn to the study of medicine, a challenge given his family’s humble financial standing (Hahnemann would continue to struggle with financial issues throughout his medical studies).
At age 20, Hahnemann managed to study medicine for two years at the University of Leipzig, where he got by working as a translator. Already proficient in many languages, Hahnemann also gained knowledge in Arabic, Syriac, Chaldaic and Hebrew.
Two years later, he moved to Vienna, Austria to further his education. He studied and practiced at the hospital of Brothers of Mercy where he found a mentor in the prominent physician Dr. von Quarin. In 1779, Hahnemann received his doctor of medicine from the University of Erlangen. His thesis was titled “A Dissertation on the Causes and Treatment of Cramps.”
In 1781, Hahnemann was appointed a village doctor in Mansfeld, Saxony. He practiced at a few more places before moving to Leipzig in 1789. Fascinated with science, especially chemistry, Hahnemann further immersed himself in the study of pharmacy.
The young doctor, however, soon became disillusioned with his profession, which he found to be fraught with superstitions and illogical methods of treatment. Hahnemann believed that the common modes of treatment like purgatives, bloodletting, emetics, etc. caused more harm than good, and abandoned his medical practice.
He met Johanna Henrietta Leopoldina Küchler and the two were married December 1, 1782. They settled in Gommern, where they welcomed the first of 11 children in 1783, and moved back to Leipzig in 1789.
Hahnemann was not the first to arrive at the idea that “likes are cured by likes.” Philosophers and physicians had advanced the idea from time to time for thousands of years. The philosophical basis of this idea has been ascribed to the Greek Empedocles (ca. 490-430 B.C.), and Hippocrates (ca. 460-377 B.C.). There is also mention of this phenomena in ancient Indian and Chinese medical texts.
After giving up his practice, Hahnemann began working as a translator of scientific and medical textbooks. While translating William Cullen's Lectures on the Materia medica into German, Hahnemann began to doubt Cullen's theory about cinchona bark, so he conducted his own experiments, using himself as a subject.
The positive effect of quinine on fever was well known in Hahnemann’s time. Quinine is an alkaloid derived from cinchona bark, and until World War I was the only effective means for treating malaria. Taking large doses of the substance, Hahnemann developed the fever, chills, thirst, and throbbing headache that characterize malaria.
This experience convinced Hahnemann that small doses of the same substance would prompt the body's own immune system to fight off the disease (in much the same way a flu shot carrying deactivated germs wards off the flu). This led to his theory that “likes are cured by likes,” similia similibus curantur, i.e., diseases may be cured by those drugs that produce in healthy persons symptoms like the diseases.
In 1796, Hahnemann promulgated his similia similibus curantur principle in a paper. Four years later, convinced that drugs in small doses effectively exerted their curative powers, he advanced his doctrine of their “potentization of dynamization.” In 1811, he was given a professorship at the University of Leipzig. Between 1811 and 1821, he published six volumes of his “Doctrine of Pure Medicine.”
"Likes cured by likes"
similia similibus curantur