Jun 18

A Brief History of Compounding Pharmacy

Although compounding pharmacy may seem like a relatively new trend, as obtaining custom-made medication is becoming increasingly popular, compounding is actually a traditional method of dispensing drugs, with ancient roots.

Thousands of years ago, hunter-gatherers relied primarily on the medicinal qualities of naturally occurring ingredients, such as animals, plants and fungi. They were aware that in many cases, that if an individual component had one medicinal property, it may be possible to develop products with multiple effects by mixing more than one thing. Although some of the “medicines” they created were effective, many had no proven medicinal qualities whatsoever, and some are now even known to have made some medical problems worse! Because early doctors and medicine men did not have a proper understanding about what caused diseases, they struggled to treat illnesses effectively. For many early pharmacists, compounding medicines was often a process of trial and error. The first commercial pharmacy is believed to have been opened in Baghdad during the 8th century, and Islamic pharmacists were very influential in helping to develop advanced methods of compounding drugs.

Compounding pharmacy was not developed solely through improvements in medicinal drugs. Although early chemists were often driven by their desires to manufacture marketable dyes, incense or cosmetics, many happened upon accidental preparations that they found served as successful medications instead. Even alchemists who were striving to turn ordinary metal into gold or create the elixir of life were able to contribute to the development of medicinal chemistry through their experimental techniques.

By the 19th century, pharmacists were beginning to experiment more with making medicinal drugs from chemical compounds and synthetic ingredients. They were able to create unrefined medicines which worked to an extent. As doctors learnt more about the nature of diseases and viruses, they were able to increase their knowledge about how to treat illnesses more successfully. Chemists were then able to identify, isolate and separate out the active ingredients from the unrefined medicines and use these ingredients to develop more effective medicines. These developments hailed the beginning of the modern age of compounding pharmacy.

In the 20th century, as medicinal drugs became more widely available and pharmaceuticals became big business, local pharmacies and apothecaries sprang up in most towns. Pharmacists were trained to compound medicines for their customers, made from drug preparations provided to them by drugs companies, however many small pharmacists noted that this was not particularly efficient on such a small scale at that point in time. However, local pharmacists continued to compound the majority of prescriptions until the 1950’s, at which point large pharmaceutical companies became the biggest supplier of prescription drugs.

In recent years, many people have realised that the “one-size-fits-all” model is not always appropriate when it comes to prescription drugs, as many people have different reactions or side effects to the market standard drugs they are given. Compounding pharmacy is therefore becoming far more popular once again, as customers seek to buy themselves medicinal drugs that are specifically tailored to their own individual tastes and requirements.


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