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The concept I'm trying to capture is a cure or medicine which can also be poisonous. An example which comes to mind would be treating syphilis with mercury, or perhaps chemotherapy for cancer treatment.

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It's worth noting that pretty much anything can be lethal in large enough doses; It's theoretically possible to die of cabbage poisoning. –  user867 May 8 at 1:12
    
@user867 water, too, and it's actually happened. –  caseyr547 May 8 at 3:49
    
Pyrrhic poison? :] –  Dirk v B May 8 at 7:01
    
Just FYI the phrase "double-edge sword" is often used for this sort of thing in English -- if that's the exact shade of meaning you're getting at. –  Joe Blow May 8 at 13:35

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The thing that is both poison and cure is called a pharmakon. (a term from ancient Greek)

The term "pharmakos" later became the term "pharmakeus" which refers to "a drug, spell-giving potion, druggist, poisoner, by extension a magician or a sorcerer."

A variation of this term is "pharmakon" (φάρμακον) a complex term meaning sacrament, remedy, poison, talisman, cosmetic, perfume or intoxicant. From this, the modern term "pharmacology" emerged.


Chemotherapy (or chemotherapic/cytotoxic subtances) is a pharmakon also. Because "chemo" indicates the toxic chemicals and "therapy" indicates the cure.

Here is a passage from "The Routledge Handbook of Language and Health Communication" edited by Heidi Hamilton, Wen-ying Sylvia Chou:

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There is an adage from Paracelsus (sometimes called the father of toxicology):

Dosis facit venenum.

(The dose makes the poison.)

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A drug. (Seriously; I'm not messing about with different senses.)

A medical spokesman, responding to criticism about certain drugs, pinpointed the dilemma:

'Show me a drug that's effective, and I'll show you a drug that has side effects.'

A more recent paraphrase can be found here.

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Thank you for the suggestion. Quite accurate in definition but not quite the term I was searching for. –  dmkerr May 7 at 22:09
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Absolutely! Except the Medical profession should remove the word side. Every drug has effects. –  andy256 May 8 at 0:38

Hormesis: Providing stimulus by nontoxic amounts of a toxic agent. If it is self-administered -think of Princess Bride- it is a mithridatic treatment

"STREPTOMYCIN / Weinstein and Ehrenkranz 27 HORMESIS Some organisms have been shown to be accelerated in their growth by streptomycin in vivo. Welch et al1°° found that the mortality rate of mice infected with Sal. typhosa was increased over that of the controls by small doses of streptomycin, whereas larger quantities afforded protection. This is the phenomenon of hormesis." -Streptomycin and dihydrostreptomycin . Weinstein, Louis, 1909-

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I don't think so. Hormesis is a specific theory of disease that in modern world goes under the name of homeopathy. The idea arose before germ theory during a time when all diseases where thought to result from various toxins. The idea was that small doses of toxins would somehow have a beneficial effect instead of detrimental. Beyond accidentally inspiring the concept of vaccination, the hypothesis never proved useful or predictive. –  TechZen May 8 at 4:18

Bitter medicine should be cure and poison.

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Please explain. –  Mohit May 8 at 11:01
    
Mohit, when you did my reputation down, so you should have answer to this question. Why are you asking to me? –  kuldeep May 8 at 11:12
    
Please click on this link to clear your doubt.healthwyze.org/index.php/component/content/article/… –  kuldeep May 8 at 11:22
    
1. I didn't vote your answer down. 2. Your link provided in the comment is still insufficient and you need to phrase whatever you want to say in the answer above to enhance its quality and such that it is understandable to a visitor. 3. Just because I expect explanation from you with regard to your answer, doesn't mean that I have the answer. That's a ludicrous proposition. 4. I am voting you down now and will vote up if your answer deserves it. –  Mohit May 9 at 7:00

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