Venetian treacle and the foundation of medicines regulation


J. P. Griffin, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, Royal College of Physicians of London. Tel: +44 (0)20 7224 0343 Fax: +44 (0)20 7224 5381 E-mail:


Mithridatium and the related product Theriac were both regarded from the time of their original formulations in the 2nd Century BC and the 1st Century AD respectively, until the mid 18th Century as universal panaceas. Any failure of these products to achieve the desired therapeutic result was attributed to defective composition or manufacture. As a result measures were introduced to ensure the quality of ingredients used in these products composition, the establishment of standard formulations and assurance of the competence of the manufacturer. Manufacture frequently was required to take place in public.

Doubts about the efficacy of these panaceas arose in the mid 18th century and concerns of the adverse nature of interactions between the numerous ingredients surfaced in Heberden's treatise of 1745, as result of which these products disappeared from Editions of The London Pharmacopoeia after 1746. Subsequently, arising from these concerns for safety and efficacy, a call was made in 1799 for the establishment of a Public Committee of eminent physicians to scrutinise all new products prior to their launch to an gullible public. The concepts developed in the history of Mithridatium form the basis of modern medicines regulation.