What is Medicine?

A natural extension of the “What is Health?” inquiry, the definition of medicine is ripe for exploration — and just might be due for an update.

In a college course that I took, “medicine “was defined as:

  • an adaptive modality aimed at supporting optimal health and at helping to restore optimal health when an imbalance or a disease process has set in
  • a practice of using available tools and therapies that are useful to the individual in question, under the current circumstances
  • something based on modern knowledge and on older known technologies, as is useful

Some other ideas that came up:

  • What is considered “medicine” varies over time and space, ie: it changes based on what is available in a given culture, region, or location AND it evolves over time.
  • The idea of a “medicine” includes considerations of what is being treated: the physical body, the mind (mental-emotional body), and/or the spirit; some medicines can only be used for one of these while some can be used for more than one.
  • What is medicine for one situation might be poison in another (and vice-versa). This includes ideas around a specific substance, how that substance might be administered, and how much of the substance is taken (dosing).
  • For some people “medicine” refers only to Western pharmaceuticals. For other people it is herbs. For still other people “medicine” is the calm felt after walking in the woods or spending time with loved ones.
  • Intention has a role to play. The person receiving the “medicine” must believe that it is so (ie: that it is useful to the situation at hand) — or at the very least must not think it harmful.
  • Medicine can be misused and misconstrued. It can become a short-term fad or used fraudulently by taking advantage of another’s misfortune.
    I have expanded my personal definition of “Medicine” over the years and now think of it as anything that 1) actively promotes health, wellness, and/or balance; 2) in no way contributes to a lack of health and wellness (or to imbalance); 3) is more often than not a part or product of the natural world. “Medicine” can be an amazing chai, a beautiful peony or dahlia, the curve of a forearm, a gut-busting laugh, and even the yucky-tasting herbal formula that I take every day at bedtime.

What is “medicine” to you?