He was born Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann in Meissen, Saxony, a town "famous for its porcelain. His father, uncles and grandfathers were all painters and designers of porcelain." Hahnemann showed "a marked proficiency in languages, of which he spoke at least nine;" "by twenty he had mastered English, French, Italian, Greek and Latin," and was making a living as a translator and teacher of languages. He later gained proficiency in "Arabic, Syriac, Chaldaic and Hebrew."
Hahnemann studied medicine for two years at Leipzig and ten months at Vienna. While studying at Leipzig, it was the "lack of clinical facilities (that) soon led him to move to Vienna." He graduated MD at the University of Erlangen on 10 August 1779, after only one term’s further study, qualifying with honors with a thesis on the treatment of cramps, titled Conspectus adfectuum spasmodicorum aetiologicus et therapeuticus. [''A Dissertation on the Causes and Treatment of Cramps''] It is said that poverty forced him to choose Erlangen only because he had learned that the fees there would be less. In 1781, he took a village doctor’s position in the copper-mining area of Mansfeld, Saxony. "Shortly thereafter he married Johanna Henriette Kuchler;" they had eleven children. While there are no known living descendants today of Hahnemann himself, there are a few of his older sister Charlotte's (1752-1812).
Hahnemann claimed that the medicine of his time did as much harm as good:
My sense of duty would not easily allow me to treat the unknown pathological state of my suffering brethren with these unknown medicines. The thought of becoming in this way a murderer or malefactor towards the life of my fellow human beings was most terrible to me, so terrible and disturbing that I wholly gave up my practice in the first years of my married life and occupied myself solely with chemistry and writing.
After giving up his practice (c.1784) he made his living chiefly as a writer and translator, while resolving also to investigate the causes of medicine's alleged errors. While translating William Cullen's A Treatise on the Materia Medica, Hahnemann encountered the claim that Cinchona, the bark of a Peruvian tree, was effective in treating malaria because of its astringency. Hahnemann claimed that other astringent substances are not effective against malaria and began to research cinchona's effect on the human organism by self-application. He claimed that the drug evoked malaria-like symptoms in himself, and concluded that it would do so in any healthy individual. This led him to postulate a healing principle: "that which can produce a set of symptoms in a healthy individual, can treat a sick individual who is manifesting a similar set of symptoms." This principle, like cures like, became the basis for an approach to medicine which he gave the name homeopathy.
Hahnemann tested substances for the effect they produced on a healthy individual and tried to deduce from this the ills they would heal. From his research, he initially concluded that ingesting substances to produce noticeable changes in the organism resulted in toxic effects. He then attempted to mitigate this problem through exploring dilutions of the compounds he was testing. He claimed that these dilutions, when done according to his technique of succussion (systematic mixing through vigorous shaking) and potentization, were still effective in producing symptoms. However, these effects have never been duplicated in clinical trials, and his approach has been universally abandoned by modern medicine.Hahnemann began practicing this new technique, which attracted other doctors c.1792. He first published an article about the homeopathic approach in a German language medical journal in 1796; in 1810, he wrote his Organon of the Medical Art, the first systematic treatise on the subject.
In the Spring of 1811 Hahnemann moved his family back to Leipzig with the intention of teaching his new medical system at the University of Leipzig. In accordance with the university statutes, he became a faculty member by submitting and defending a thesis on a medical topic of his choice: On 26 June 1812, Hahnemann presented a Latin thesis, entitled "A Medical Historical Dissertation on the Helleborism of the Ancients."
Hahnemann continued practicing and researching homeopathy, as well as writing and lecturing for the rest of his life. He died in 1843 in Paris, at 88 years of age, and is entombed in a mausoleum at Paris's Père Lachaise cemetery.
Hahnemann published numerous tracts on chemistry and general medicine before he stumbled upon the homeopathic method. His notable works on Homeopathy include:
Hahnemann "recommended the use of fresh air, bed rest, proper diet, sunshine, public hygiene and numerous other beneficial measures at a time when many other physicians considered them of no value." Hahnemann was also campaigned for the humane treatment of the insane in 1792. Additionally, he discovered a common test for arsenic.
Hahnemann also published tracts in which he conceived that cholera was caused by "excessively minute, invisible, living creatures."