The History of Compounding
Way Back When
Before mass production of medications became normal, compounding was a routine activity among pharmacists. Community pharmacists who have experience with compounding techniques are now less common.
Pharmaceutical compounding has ancient roots. Hunter-gatherer societies had some knowledge of the medicinal properties of the animals, plants, molds, fungus and bacteria as well as inorganic minerals within their environment. Ancient civilizations utilized pharmaceutical compounding for religion, grooming, keeping the healthy well, treating the ill and preparing the dead. These ancient compounders produced the first oils from plants and animals. They discovered poisons and the antidotes. They made ointments for wounded patients as well as perfumes for customers.
The earliest chemists were familiar with various natural substances and their uses. These drug artisans compounded a variety of preparations such as medications, dyes, incense, perfumes, ceremonial compounds, preservatives and cosmetics. Drug compounders seeking gold and the fountain of youth drove the Alchemy movement. Alchemy eventually contributed to the creation of modern pharmacy and the principles of pharmacy compounding. In the medieval Islamic world in particular, Muslim pharmacists and chemists developed advanced methods of compounding drugs. The first drugstores were opened by Muslim pharmacists in Baghdad in 754.
A Little More Recently
The modern age of pharmacy compounding began in the 19th century with the isolation of various compounds from coal tar for the purpose of producing synthetic dyes. From this one natural product came the earliest antibacterial sulfa drugs, phenolic compounds made famous by Joseph Lister, and plastics.
During the 1800s, pharmacists specialized in the raising, preparation and compounding of crude drugs. Crude drugs, like opium, are from natural sources and usually contain multiple chemical compounds. The compounding pharmacist often extracted these crude drugs using water or alcohol to form extracts, concoctions and decoctions.
Pharmacists began isolating and identifying the active ingredients contained within these crude drug concoctions. Using fractionation or recrystallization, the compounding pharmacist would separate the active ingredients, like morphine, and use it in place of the crude drug. During this time modern medicine began.