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British Society for the History of Pharmacy

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Our events programme covers a wide range of pharmacy history topics.  We hold 3 evening meetings each year, and annual conference, a summer visit, and a joint meeting with a School of Pharmacy.  Click on an event below to find out more.
Online (Zoom)
Monday 19 June 202318:30 BST
Cost: free of charge

The first official Indian Pharmacopeia was published in 1955, a few years after independence from British rule. This was the culmination of a long campaign over sixty-odd years by Indian physicians, and practitioners of Ayurveda and Unani who were also joined by significant numbers of Indian nationalists and British medical officials. Several unofficial and semi-official materia medica and similar compilations on Indian drugs circulated in medical and official circles, but these were not standard, official pharmacopeia. Indeed, there was no official pharmacopeia in British India. The British Pharmacopeia served as an unofficial guide, but the drugs circulating in the medical market comprised a medley of potions, pills, and tinctures that were eclectic in composition and origins.

 The attempt to standardize a selection of Indian drugs in everyday use by physicians and chemists and druggists, therefore, appeared to be an urgent necessity, and was endorsed by British officials and the medical establishment. Hundreds of drugs from the bazaars were procured and tested in laboratories to identify their active principles and standardize their potency and dosage. Several reports, official and unofficial were produced on the efficacy and characteristics of long lists of indigenous drugs in use from all parts of the subcontinent. Yet, a consensus on the Indian Pharmacopeia did not emerge in colonial India. This paper will examine why the Indian Pharmacopeia failed to materialize, although the subcontinent produced a vast number of raw drugs.

Dr. Nandini Bhattacharya is Associate Professor in South Asian History & History of Medicine at the University of Houston.

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