1902 Encyclopedia > Pharmacopoeia


PHARMACOPOEIA (lit. the art of the ___________, or drug-compounder) in its modern technical sense denotes a book containing directions for the identification of simples and the preparation of compound medicines, and published by the authority of a Government or of a medical or pharmaceutical society. The name has also been applied to similar compendiums issued by private individuals. The first work of the kind published under Government authority appears to have been that of Nurem-berg in 1542 ; a passing student named Valerius Cordus showed a collection of medical receipts, which he had selected from the writings of the most eminent medical authorities, to the physicians of the town, who urged him to print it for the benefit of the apothecaries, and obtained for his work the sanction of the senatus. An earlier work, known as the Antidotarium Florentinum, had been pub-lished, but only under the authority of the college of medicine of Florence. The term " pharmacopoeia " first appears as a distinct title in a work published at Basel in 1561 by Dr A. Foes, but does not appear to have come into general use until the beginning of the 16th century. Before 1542 the works principally used by apothecaries were the treatises on simples by Avicenna and Serapion ; the Be Synonymis and Quid pro Quo of Simon Januensis; the Liber Servitoris of Bulchasim Ben Aberazerim, which described the preparations made from plants, animals, and minerals, and was the type of the chemical portion of modern pharmacopoeias; and the Antidotarium of Nicolaus de Salerno, containing Galenical compounds arranged al-phabetically. Of this last work there were two editions in use,—Nicolaus magnus and Nicolaus parvus; in the latter, several of the compounds described in the larger edition were omitted and the formulae given on a smaller scale.

Until 1617 such drugs and medicines as were in common use were sold in England by the apothecaries and grocers. In that year the apothecaries obtained a separate charter, and it was enacted at the same time that no grocer should keep an apothecary's shop. The preparation of physicians' prescriptions was thus confined to the apothecaries, upon whom pressure was brought to bear, in order to make them dispense accurately, by the issue of a pharmacopoeia in May 1618 by the College of Physicians, and by the power which the wardens of the apothecaries received in common with the censors of the College of Physicians of examining the shops of apothecaries within 7 miles of London and destroying all the compounds which they found unfaith-fully prepared. This, which was the first authorized London Pharmacopoeia, was selected chiefly from the works of Mezue and Nicolaus de Salerno, with a few additions from those of other authors then in repute, but it was found to be so full of errors that the whole edition was cancelled, and a fresh one was published in the follow-ing December. At this period the compounds employed in medicine were often heterogeneous mixtures, some of which contained from 20 to 70, or more ingredients, while a large number of simples were used in consequence of the same substance being supposed to possess different qualities according to the source from which it was derived. Thus crabs' eyes, pearls, oyster-shells, and coral were supposed to have different properties. Among other disgusting ingredients entering into some of these formulae were the excrements of human beings, dogs, mice, geese, and other animals, calculi, human skull and moss growing on it, blind puppies, earthworms, &c. Although other editions of the Lemdon Pharmacopoeia were issued in 1621,1632,1639, and 1677, it was not until the edition of 1721, published under the auspices of Sir Hans Sloane, that any important altera-tions were made. In this issue many of the ridiculous remedies previously in use were omitted, although a good number were still retained, such as dog's excrement, earthworms, and moss from the human skull; the botanical names of herbal remedies were for the first time added to the official ones; the simple distilled waters were ordered of a uniform strength ; sweetened spirits, cordials, and ratifias were omitted as well as several compounds no longer used in London, although still in vogue elsewhere. A great improvement was effected in the edition published in 1746, in which only those preparations were retained which had received the approval of the majority of the pharmacopoeia committee; to these was added a list of those drugs only which were supposed to be the most efficacious. An attempt was made to simplify further the older formulae by the rejection of the superfluous ingre-dients which had been introduced during a succession of ages, and by retention of the known active ingredients. In the edition published in 1788 the tendency to sim-plify was carried out to a much greater extent, and the extremely compound medicines which had formed the principal remedies of physicians for 2000 years were dis-carded, while a few powerful drugs which had been considered too dangerous to be included in the Pharmacopoeia of 1765.were restored to their previous position. In 1809 the French chemical nomenclature was adopted, and in 1815a corrected impression of the same was issued. Sub-sequent editions were published in 1824, 1836, and 1851.

The first Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia was published in 1699 and the last in 1841 ; the first Dublin Pharmacopoeia in 1807 and the last in 1850.

The preparations contained in these three pharmacopoeias were not all uniform in strength, a source of much incon-venience and danger to the public, when powerful pre-parations such as dilute hydrocyanic acid were ordered in the one country and dispensed according to the national pharmacopoeia in another. This inconvenience led to the insertion of a provision in the Medical Act of 1858, by which it was ordained that the General Medical Council .should cause to be published under their direction a book containing a list of medicines and compounds, and such other matters and things relating thereto, as the General Council should think fit, to be called the British 1'harmacopceia, which should for all purposes be deemed to be a substitute throughout Great Britain and Ireland for the several above-mentioned pharmacopoeias. Hitherto these had been published in Latin. The first British Pharmacopoeia was published in the English language in 1864, but gave such general dissatisfaction both to the medical profession and to chemists and druggists that the General Medical Council brought out a new and amended edition in 1867. This dissatisfaction was probably owing partly to the difficulty met with in selecting a due propor-tion of formulae from each pharmacopoeia so as to avoid giving offence to national susceptibilities, and partly to the fact that the majority of the compilers of the work were men not engaged in the actual practice of pharmacy, and therefore competent rather to decide upon the kind of preparations required than upon the method of their manu-facture. The necessity for this element in the construc-tion of a pharmacopoeia is now fully recognized in other countries, in most of which pharmaceutical chemists are duly represented on the committee for the preparation of the legally recognized manuals.

National pharmacopoeias now exist in the following countries: — Austria, Belgium. Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Holland, Hungary, India, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the United States of America. The Argentine Republic, Chili, and Japan have each a pharmacopoeia in preparation. All the above-mentioned were issued under the authority of Government, and their instructions have the force of law in their respective countries, except those of the United States and Mexico, which were prepared by commissioners appointed bv medical or pharmaceutical societies, and have no other authority, although generally accepted as the national text-books. Italy has no national pharmacopoeia, the authorities used in the different states prior to the unification being still retained. Sardinia, for example, has a pharmacopoeia dating from 1853; Modena, Parma, and Piacenza have one in common, published in 1839 ; in the States of the Church as well as in Tuscany and Lucca an unofficial com-pilation is in use entitled Orosi Farinacologia technica practica ovveroFarmacologia Ilaliana; Naples has itsRicettario Farmaceutico Napolitano (1859) ; and Lombardy and Venice use the Austrian pharmacopoeia. Although Switzerland has anational pharmacopoeia, this does not possess Government authority, the French Codex being recognized in Geneva, and the canton of Ticino having a pharma-copoeia of its own.

The French Codex has probably a more extended use than any other pharmacopoeia outside the limits of its own country, being, in connexion with Dorvault's L'Officine, the standard for druggists in a large portion of Central and South America ; it is also official in Turkey. The sum-total of the drugs and preparations it con-tains is about 2000, or more than double the average of other modern pharmacopoeias. The progress of medical knowledge during the last two hundred years has led to a gradual but very perceptible alteration in the contents of the various pharmacopoeias. The original very complex formulae have been gradually simplified until only the most active ingredients have been retained, and in many cases the active principles have to a large extent replaced the crude drugs from which they were derived. From time to time such secret remedies of druggists or physicians as have met with popular or professional approval have been represented by simpler official preparations.

International Pharmacopoeia.—The increased facilities for travel during the last fifty years have brought into greater prominence the importance of an approach to uniformity in the formulae of the more powerful remedies, such as the tinctures of aconite, opium, and mix vomica, in order to avoid danger to patients when a prescrip-tion is dispensed in a different country from that in which it was written. Attempts have been made during the last few years by international pharmaceutical and medical conferences to settle a basis on which an international pharmacopoeia could be prepared, but, owing to national jealousies and the attempt to include too many preparations in such a work, it has not as yet been produced. At the fifth International Pharmaceutical Congress held in London in 1881, however, a resolution was passed to the effect that it was necessary that such a pharmacopoeia should be prepared, and a commission consisting of two delegates from each of the countries represented was recommended to be appointed in order to pre-pare within the shortest possible time a compilation in which the strength of all potent drugs and their preparations should be equalized,—the work, when complete, to be handed over to their respective Governments or to their pharmacopoeia committees. It appears probable that such a work will be presented for considera-tion by the commission at the forthcoming meeting of the con-gress at Brussels in 1885.

Several unofficial universal pharmacopoeias have been published from time to time in England and in France, which serve to show the comparative strength of parallel preparations in different countries ; but the results of discussions which have taken place at the international conferences above alluded to indicate that the production and acceptance of an international pharmacopoeia will tie a work of time, and that in such a work the numerous drugs and preparations intended to meet an unprofessional demand rather than the wants of physicians will have to be omitted. The advances that have been made in this direction are as follows. The metric or decimal mode of calculation and the centigrade scale of temperature are adopted in all pharmacopoeias except those of Great Britain, of India, and in some instances of Greece. The majority omit chemical formulae. An alphabetical arrangement is followed in all except the French, Spanish, and Greek. The great increase of medical literature and international exchange of medical journals has led to the adoption in almost every country of all the really valuable remedial agents, and the more extended use of active principles lias given rise to an approximation in strength of their solutions. The difficulty of nomenclature could probably be overcome by a list of synonyms being given with each article, and that of language by the use of Latin. The greatest stumbling-blocks in the way of uniformity are the tinctures and extracts,—a class of preparations containing many very powerful drugs, but in which the same name does not always indicate the same thing ; thus, extract of aconite signifies an extract of the root in the pharmacopoeias of the United States, Austria, Hungary, and Russia, extract of the leaves in the Danish and Portuguese, inspissated juice of the fresh leaves in the British, Indian, Spanish, and Greek, and dry extract of the leaves with sugar of milk in the Norwegian phar-macopoeias. It appears probable, however, that the growth of phar-maceutical chemistry will indicate clearly, in course of time, wdiich of those in use form the most active and reliable preparations, while the general adoption of the metric system will lead to clearer approxi. mation of strength than hitherto. The method adopted by the Portuguese pharmacopoeia comes nearest to that uniformity which is so desirable in such preparations, as the tinctures of the fresh plants are all prepared with equal parts of the drug and alcoholic menstruum; simple tinctures in general, with unfortunately a few ' exceptions, with one part of the drug in five parts of alcohol of given strength ; ethereal tinctures are in the proportion of one part in ten ; and the tinctures of the alkaloids and their salts contain one part of the alkaloid in ninety-nine of menstruum.

Homoeopathic and eclectic practitioners as well as dentists have also their special pharmacopoeias.

See Bell and Redwood, Progress of Pharmacy (London, 1880); Scherer, Literatura pharmacopoearum (Leipsic and Sorau, 1822); Flint, Report on the Pharmacopoeias of all Nations (Washington, 1883); Report of the Proceedings of the Fifth International Pharmaceutical Congress (1881). (E. M. H.)

The above article was written by: E. M. Holmes.

Search the Encyclopedia:

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries