I have many times come across discussions related to the use of homeopathy medicines in cases of snakebites and poisoning in general. My students also raise this question invariably every year. In the text that follows, I will try to provide a logical approach for the treatment of cases of poisoning. The ideas that I am going to present are in part given in the Organon of Medicine and in part relate to my own understanding of the subject. The article is in a question-answer format. I hope it will help to create some standard guidelines for the homeopathic community.
What to do in cases of acute poisoning?
In cases of acute chemical poisoning or biological poisoning, the first step should be to use measures to remove the toxin from the body or to antidote it using specific anti-toxins/antidotes/anti-venoms.
Administering activated charcoal is recommended for the gastro-intestinal decontamination of most poisons, unless doing so is contra-indicated. Gastric lavage should be considered in life-threatening cases of poisoning that present within the first hour. Specific antidotes like hydroxocobalamin, stonefish and snake antevenenes, digoxin-specific antibodies, esmolol hydrochloride, and octreotide should be used in specific cases. Please refer the following documents for more details about general management of acute poisoning.
Can I use Homeopathic Medicines in Acute Poisoning/Snake-bites?
No. Homeopathy should not be used as the primary treatment in cases of acute poisoning. A specific anti-venom/anti-toxin should be administered to the patient as soon as possible. Homeopathy medicines do not have any effect on the toxin but homeopathy medicines can be used as supportive simultaneous treatment to allay the anxiety fear and to improve the vitality of the patient.
Why Homeopathic Medicines will not work as effective antidotes in poisoning cases?
Many homeopaths will disagree with what I have written above but there is strong logic and practical wisdom behind these statements, which does not go against homeopathic philosophy. The effect of any disease-causing influence on the human body is explained in homeopathy as follows:
Every substance that acts in a morbific manner has some effect on the body due to its inherent nature and properties. This effect is referred to as the Primary Action of that substance/agent. The body reacts instinctively to any stimulus that is inimical to life in an effort to maintain homeostasis and preserve life. This action of the body (Vital Force) is termed the Secondary Action. This is what Hahnemann says about the Primary and Secondary Action in the Organon:
§ 63- Every agent that acts upon the vitality, every medicine, deranges more or less the vital force, and causes a certain alteration in the health of the individual for a longer or a shorter period. This is termed primary action. Although a product of the medicinal and vital powers conjointly, it is principally due to the former power. To its action our vital force endeavors to oppose its own energy. This resistant action is a property, is indeed an automatic action of our life-preserving power, which goes by the name of secondary action or counteraction.
§ 64- During the primary action of the artificial morbific agents (medicines) on our healthy body, as seen in the following examples, our vital force seems to conduct itself merely in a passive (receptive) manner, and appears, so to say, compelled to permit the impressions of the artificial power acting from without to take place in it and thereby after its state of health; it then, however, appears to rouse itself again, as it were, and to develop (A) the exact opposite condition of health (counteraction, secondary action ) to this effect (primary action) produced upon it, if there be such an opposite, and that in as great a degree as was the effect (primary action) of the artificial morbific agent on it, and proportionate to its own energy; – or (B) if there be not in nature a state exactly the opposite of the primary action, it appears to endeavor to indifferentiate itself, that is, to make its superior power available in the extinction of the change wrought in it from without (by the medicine), in the place of which it substitutes its normal state (secondary action, curative action).
Now we come back to explaining why homeopathy will not work in cases of acute and fatal poisoning. The poison has a strong Primary Action which is very destructive for the tissues. Most poisons (esp. snake poisons) are either haemotoxic or neurotoxic that is they destroy these tissues due to their primary effect. The effect begins instantaneously and depending upon the quality and quantity of the toxin irreparable damage is done within seconds or minutes. Homeopathically speaking, the body has two challenges in dealing with acute toxicity. First, the vital force ultimately has the body as a means to create the secondary action. Unfortunately, nature has not provided our body with such means that the body can create the secondary protective response as quickly as the material toxin is doing the damage. Significant and often irreparable damage is done even before the body is able to mobilize its resources properly. Another problem is that most toxins destroy blood, nerves or liver as their primary target. All of them are critical for the body in mounting any defense against any morbific influence. That means that the ‘means’ that the body has are themselves compromised.
So even if a homeopathic medicine matching the symptoms of the acute poisoning is given to the patient, it will not be able to show much beneficial effect because the homeopathic medicines rely on stimulating the body to create beneficial secondary action. The body will fail to utilize the homeopathic input as it does not have the natural effective means to create a ‘Seconadry Counter-Action’ and the morbific influence being primarily material (there is no primary derangement of vital force and no disease ‘process’ as such here) will not be affected by any effort to create ‘Secondary Curative Action’.
Also, the homeopathic principles are not against using ‘life-saving’ measures where the vital force cannot help itself. Here is a quote from Organon by Dr. Hahnemann:
Footnote to 67th Aphorism:
1 Only in the most urgent cases, where danger to life and imminent death allow no time for the action of a homoeopathic remedy – not hours, sometimes not even quarter-hours, and scarcely minutes – in sudden accidents occurring to previously healthy individuals – for example, in asphyxia and suspended animation from lightning, from suffocation, freezing, drowning, etc. – is it admissible and judicious, at all events as a preliminary measure to stimulate the irritability and sensibility (the physical life) with a palliative, as for instance, with gentle electrical shocks, with clysters of strong coffee, with a stimulating odor, gradual application of heat, etc. When this stimulation is effected, the play of the vital organs again goes on in its former healthy manner, for there is here no disease* to be removed, but merely an obstruction and suppression of the healthy vital force. To this category belong various antidotes to sudden poisoning: alkalies from mineral acids, hepar sulphuris for metallic poisons, coffee and camphora (and ipecacuanha) for poisoning by opium, etc.
Will potentised venoms work as antidotes?
The explanations above clearly show that there is no way potentised venom can work as an antidote. Some companies have come out with such products but there has been no clinical investigation on the therapeutic effects of such potentised venoms as antidotes. Having said that, I must add that it has been shown in many scientific studies that potentised toxins (like arsenic and lead) help to eliminate the toxin more quickly from the body. Tautopathy also works on similar principles. Therefore potentised venoms MAY help in the elimination process but this needs to be researched.
For those who are new to homeopathy, I would like to add here that although the effects of potentised venoms as antidotes to venoms has not been studied, homeopaths use potentised venoms as medicines after drug-provings and medicines prepared from posions (like Lachesis, Crotalus, Vipera, Tarentula, Arsenic, Plumbum etc.) are some of the most well known and often used therapeutic agents in homeopathy!
When and how to use homeopathic medicines in poisoning cases?
Homeopathy does have a role to play in both acute and chronic poisoning. There are four ways in which homeopathic medicines can be of use in cases of poisoning:
1. As supportive treatment in cases of confirmed acute poisoning.
2. As primary treatment for cases of feared poisoning.
3. As tautopathic medicines in cases of chronic poisoning.
4. As homeopathic medicine in cases of chronic poisoning.
I will discuss the use of homeopathy in acute poisoning here and follow with the use of chronic poisoning in the next question.
We all know that most snakes on earth are not poisonous and therefore many snake bites are also non-toxic. But the person who is bitten often collapses just due to fear of snakes or fear of death. In such cases homeopathic medicines like Aconite, Arnica, Arsenic, Belladona, Camphor, Chamomilla, Coccus, Digitalis, Hypericum, Ignatia, Ledum, Mochus, Nux vomica, Opium etc. may help to remove the fear and anxiety in such cases. The same set of medicines may also be useful in treating cases with confirmed poisoning. Ultimatley the medicine should be selected according to the acute totality presented.
In confirmed cases of poisoning, even after the anti-venom is administered and the life is out of danger, the person often takes many weeks or months to become normal. The appropriate homeopathic medicines can help the body to get rid of any pent up toxin and to improve the vitality of the person in general. Such events can also leave chronic psychological impressions that may manifest as undue anxiety and unreasonable fears. Appropriate homeopathic treatment in such cases may work wonders for the patient.
How to deal with cases of chronic poisoning?
Homeopathic medicines have a more active role to play in cases of chronic organic or mineral poisoning. As mentioned above the use of potentised toxins in such cases may help the body in eliminating the toxins more quickly. This means using cuprum-met for copper poisoning, arsenicum album for arsenic poisoning, plumbum-met for lead poisoning, potentised thallium for thallium poisoning and so on.
The homeopathic medicine chosen on the basis of symptom similarity and the totality of the case will also help in such cases. Chronic poisoning mimics an artificial disease state with gradual derangement of the vital force. The question is how to use both these tools in a given case. Many classical homeopaths will cringe at the thought of using two medicines at the same time but here we have two means ? one which will primarily help to remove the material cause and the other which will help restore the deranged vitality. Should we use just one? I would personally recommend the tautopathic medicine in low potency with frequent repetition and the ‘simillimum’ as an intercurrent in a higher potency, to make the best use of the tools in hand. But the correct protocol will often vary from individual to individual and from homeopath to homeopath. It needs more research but the patient’s interest should be our primary concern in each case.
I hope the article will prove useful to the homeopathic community. I invite comments and experiences.