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Pharmacy, Pharmacognosy, Materia Medica and Therapeutics

One of the greatest sciences that had a great impetus on Islamic medicine was the development of pharmacy and phamacognosy. Chemistry or 'Alchemia' had been studied by most Islamic Physicians and scholars. This study was furthered by concomitant development of techniques to refine drugs, medications and extracts by process of distillation, sublimation, crystallization. Druggists or Attarin became commonplace in Islamic lands and their proliferation ultimately required the institution of licensing of pharmacists and druggists.

Pharmacological drugs were classified into simple and compound drugs, 'the mufraddat and the murakkabat'. The effects of these were detailed and documented. The earliest Islamic works on pharmacognosy were written before translation of the Greek works of Dioscorides. Titles such as 'Treatise on the power of drugs their beneficial and their ill effects' and then again The Power of simple drugs' were written in the third and fourth century AH/ ninth century AD. Most medical texts contained chapters on the use of both these types of remedies, thus Razi's al-Hawi mentions 829 drugs.

Materia Medica and texts containing compendia of drugs their effects appears frequently during the era of Islamic Medicine. Notable amongst these is the contribution of Abu Bakr ibn Samghun of Cardoba on 'The Comprehensive book on views of the Ancients as well as the Moderns on Simple Drugs' Ibn Juljul made a commentary of drugs and plants described by Dioscordes and added a number of newer ones. Al-Zahrawi's Tasrif mentioned earlier in reference to its surgical volume also had a section on plants and drugs.

The second book of the Canon is devoted to the discussion of simple drugs and the powers and qualities being listed in charts. One of the most authoritative book on drugs was written by famous scholar and philosopher al-Biruni entitled 'The Book on drugs' which contains a huge compendium of drugs, their actions and their equivalent names in several languages.

Even today perhaps the most extensive pharmacotherapy especially as related to plant medicinal and herbal preparations can be attributed to modern day Islamic or Tibbi Medicine and finds great favor in the Indian subcontinent often being as popular as western or synthetic medicine.

In fact western pharmaceutical companies have often 'invaded' into this domain, the classical example being of the extract of 'Ruwalfia Serpentina' a root that yielded a potent anti-hypertensive which was a very popular remedy for hypertension in the sixties and which had been known to the Hakims for several centuries before being exploited by the west. No doubt in this pharmacopoeia there are other drugs equally effective in other diseases that need to be scientifically analyzed by random studies and double blind clinical trials for their effectiveness!

Adapted from the book: "Islamic Medicine" by: "Husain F.Nagamia"

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