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Pharmaceuticals, medications, medicines, and medicinal drugs are words that are generally used synonymously. Although there may be subtle differences in the definitions, these are not germane to this portion of our guide, and any of these would be appropriate for this category.

Pharmacotherapy (drug therapy) is an important part of the field of medicine, and it relies on the science of pharmacology for its continued development and on pharmacies for appropriate management.

The earliest recorded accounts of the use of pharmacology are from Mesopotamian clay tablets believed to stem from about 2000 BCE, although there is evidence that Neanderthals made use of various medicinal plants as medicine, and archeological evidence suggests that herbal medicines were used to treat illnesses during the Neolithic era.

Clay tablets uncovered on the Greek island of Crete, dating from 1425 to 1390 BCE, included the names of various plants that were used as medicines or food supplements, and opium was used in Crete at about 1250 BCE.

Dated from the 5th to the 1st century BCE, the Roman Republic was heavily influenced by Greek heritage. During this period, Celsus, the author of an encyclopedia, included an eight-part section entitled De Medicina (On Medicine), which discusses pharmacology, naming 156 herbal drugs, 13 minerals, and various animal materials used as medicines. By the 4th century CE, when the Roman Empire was divided into the Greek East and the Latin West, there were several written works on medicinal drugs.

The oldest surviving book on medicine in Old English is a copy of a book published about 950 CE but written about fifty years earlier. It includes a large section on folk remedies and herbal medicine and contains more than 500 medicines, most of which are of plant origin.

The first official formularies were written in the late 15th and early 16th centuries CE by individual physicians or groups of physicians for use in their local areas.

While the earliest evidence of the use of herbal medicine predates any written record, herbal medicines have still not been relegated to the realm of medical history. They have continued to be used over the centuries, in parallel to more conventional modern medicines. For that matter, several modern medicines are plant derivatives or synthesized from herbal medicines. For example, opiates are derived from the opium poppy.

Antibiotics originate from microorganisms, dating to long before the discovery of penicillin in 1928 and its subsequent production during World War II. The medicinal use of molds dates back to antiquity, as far back as 3000 BCE.

In 1891, Dr. George Redmayne Murray, an English physician, tried out a new treatment for thyroid deficiency. He injected a patient with an extract of fresh sheep's thyroid, and the patient recovered within a few months. Other physicians tried it, and it eventually became the treatment of choice. In 1914, an American chemist isolated the main hormone in the thyroid (thyroxine), a dry thyroid extract that was used until the 1970s, when it was largely replaced by a synthesized version, which I take, known as Levothyroxine.

In 1914, Dr. Edward Mellanby, a British physician, developed the therapeutic use of cod liver oil as a treatment for rickets, which later became known as vitamin D. In 1921, a Canadian surgeon, Dr. Frederick Banting, and a biochemist, James Collip, began a program of preparing insulin concentrates from the pancreases of slaughtered cows and pigs.

The first synthetic medicine was ether, recorded in Theophrastus von Hohenheim's writings in the 1540s. He tested it by feeding it to chickens. Early 19th-century advances in chemistry facilitated the synthesis of a wide range of chemicals, many of which were used in medicines. These have replaced several of the earlier medicines that were derived from plant or animal sources.

Nevertheless, active ingredients extracted from natural products, such as herbal materials, fermentation products, and animal products, remain major sources of new medicines.

The word biopharmaceutical is used to describe a pharmaceutical product manufactured through biotechnology methods such as those involving live organisms.

Early attempts at preventing smallpox used a process known as variolation, which involved introducing a sample of pus from a smallpox blister beneath the skin of another individual. A later discovery was that people who had contracted cowpox were immune to smallpox, and the variolation of pus from cowpox became known as vaccination, as the Latin term for cowpox was vaccinia. In England, the vaccination of children was made compulsory in 1853. Other vaccines derived from animals soon followed.

COVID-19 brought about the greater use of mRNA vaccines, which use a copy of a molecule called messenger RNA to produce an immune response.


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