Wherever civilisation arises; we find pharmacy, because it fulfils one of man’s basic needs. This effort to grasp from nature for whatever might shield us from affliction was earlier a service before it came to be known as a profession. Pharmacy thus, has a long history. Fossils from plants with medicinal properties have been found with the remains of Neanderthals, indicating that early man used these plants as drugs around 50,000 BC.
The ancient Egyptians possessed quite a considerable degree of pharmaceutical lore, and their writings tell us that they could supply infusions, decoctions, macerations, inhalations, garg1es, poultices, and in fact practically the same type of preparations the older pharmacists of today, would still recognise.
Pharmaceutical knowledge at that period was not confined to the Egyptians. The Chinese had their-Pun Tsao or Great Herbal, which was an extremely interesting manuscript. Some of the remedies described in this book are toad’s eyelids for colds, and earthworms rolled in honey for gastritis.
The Greeks have also made significant contribution to the world of medicine in two giant steps, which is expressed in the writings of Hippocrates. Firstly, they began to look for natural causes and effects in producing disease, and secondly they produced the first clearly recognisable descriptions of diseases and epidemics. These first steps in scientific medicine existed side by side with belief in divine powers of the oracles and priests to treat illness. Soon after, the methods of thought expounded by Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle began to escape from the power of the supernatural, which allowed the development of Western science.
In 1240, the German Emperor Frederick II issued an edict that essentially separated the practice of medicine and pharmacy, giving rise to the professional pharmacy. The defining moment, after almost 200 years of argument, came with the passing of the Apothecaries Act of 1815. Prior to this, many apothecaries practiced medicine, but they weren’t supposed to charge for their advice, but only for the drugs they supplied. The outcome of the new Apothecaries Act was a clearer definition of the two streams of practice involving, medicine and pharmacy. Very soon the discovery of the Sulphonamide group of drugs saved many lives in the Second World War, before Penicillin became freely available. The many technological improvements during the nineteenth century ranging from the stethoscope to X-rays and especially the identification of many of the bacteria responsible for infectious diseases, put clinical observation and treatment on a much firmer empirical basis.
In the 19th century, pharmacy began a transformation from an art to a science. Natural products that were long a staple in the pharmaceutical armament were being analyzed for their chemical makeup. Scientists began exploring the structure of drugs, linking it to the activity of compounds, and they began to synthesise compounds with similar structures. Industry was still in its infancy but the mass production of drug products had started. New standards and new knowledge meant new opportunities for precision in prescribing compounding and dosing; opportunities that pharmacy and medicine had never known before.
The 20th century will be forever remembered for its remarkable advances in chemistry, medicine and pharmacy. Countless new drugs were discovered and manufacturers were literally at war to stay ahead with new patents.
The face of pharmacy may have changed over the past 1000 years, but its traditional role remains the same. Although the preparation and preservation of drug products have moved from pharmacy to the pharmaceutical industry, the pharmacist continues to fulfill the prescriber’s intentions, by not only dispensing a medication but also by providing a quality product, providing advice and information, and monitoring drug therapy