UNDERLYING our civilization, and often very necessary to our daily life, are agencies unrecognized by the general mass of humanity. Among these is a little book known as the 'United States Pharmacopœia' It concerns most nearly the medical profession, but perhaps most vitally the general public. Probably four doctors out of five have no clear, correct conception of the Pharmacopoeia, its intent and scope; whilst the ordinary citizen does not know of its existence. I have thought perhaps a short article concerning it might not be uninteresting to the readers of the The Popular Science Monthly, and the concurrence of the editor in this belief has led to the present dictation.
The Pharmacopœia is an official standard list of drugs, in which is given so much of their natural history as may be necessary to enable the apothecary to judge of the genuineness and purity of an offered sample, and in which is also given a list of the proper preparations for use of these drugs, with the methods of the making of these preparations. The intent of the Pharmacopoeia is to insure genuineness and purity, proper methods of preparing, and uniformity of strength in the preparations. A common, fallacious belief is that Pharmacopœial recognition means that the drug recognized is of value; the fact is that the United States and other Pharmacopoeias have in them numerous drugs of very little use. The nature or motif, so to speak, of a pharmacopoeia is not to distinguish between worthy and worthless drugs, but to see that a drug which is asked for is as sold by the apothecary pure, and that proper preparations of uniform strength are made by the apothecary.
The question which the framers of a pharmacopoeia ask themselves, is not is this drug of value, but is there a demand for it by the profession of medicine? If five thousand doctors in the United States believed brick-dust to be a valuable remedy, and habitually used it, brick-dust would have to go into the pharmacopoeia. Witch-hazel is probably as active and as useful as is brick-dust, but witch-hazel is a fad, and is enormously called for, and so witch-hazel must go into the pharmacopoeia. The pharmacopoeia exists for the purpose of requiring the apothecary to give in the first place pure brick-dust or pure witch-hazel when asked for; and in the second place uniform preparations of these remedies.
Every European country has its own pharmacopœia, prepared by