Materia Medica

Elaine Lewis and Mati Fuller Sort out Arsenicum alb. and Argent-nit.

A fine differentiation between Arsenicum Album and Argentum Nitricum.

Elaine Lewis


Mati Fuller

We’re going to ask you to watch a movie this time!  Click on the video link below; the idea here is that Bob is a clinging vine!  He’s got anxiety neurosis and he can’t be alone, so he goes to extraordinary lengths to ingratiate himself with his psychiatrist’s family and continually out-wits his psychiatrist, Dr. Leo Marvin, who can’t get rid of him despite trying everything.  That’s the gist of it.

Bob is a classic remedy type, the question is, which one?  Go ahead and watch the video; Mati and I will wait for you to get back.  Wait and wait.  Wait and Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.


Mati, wake up, I think they’re back!  OK, let’s talk about “Bob”, shall we?  I can understand that all the “what-ifs” Bob rattles off tend to point to Arg-nit—the quintessential “What-If” remedy.  (What if I have a heart attack on the way to the supermarket?  What will happen to my dog?  What if the car battery dies on the bridge?  What if I have to go to the bathroom and I can’t find one?)  But here’s what throws me off, Mati: the scene where Bob’s in bed, and “The Brady Bunch” is on the TV.  He’s having an anxiety attack.  He calls his psychiatrist (Dr. Marvin) and he can’t get him on the phone and the answering service won’t give up his location; it sure looks like an Arsenicum anxiety attack to me, what do you think?

Actually no, Elaine.  Arsenicum would have given Dr. Marvin extra money to ensure that he would be available at all times, if that is what was needed.

I do see that if Bob were a possible Arsenicum, he would have been unlikely to have endeared himself to Mrs. Marvin and Sigi and Anna–Dr. Marvin’s family–the way he did.  Does Argent-nit cover this “endearing”, personable quality?  Actually, come to think of it, it does!!!!!  Nancy Herrick gave a lecture on Argent-nit. once and said they are very naive, innocent, overly open or friendly, you’re instantly their best friend, and Bob does have all of those qualities!

Argent-nit. is eccentric and impulsive, and if he wants someone to rescue him, he has to be somewhat charming, too.  When someone is impulsive, it means he doesn’t think before he acts.  He will simply express whatever comes to him, and that is what Bob does.  Anna is pretty, and she takes care of his goldfish.  He instantly likes her, and has no problem expressing this.  Instinctively, he knows that if he can get Anna on his side, there is a greater chance that Dr. Marvin will treat him despite his being on vacation.  So, being friendly is part of his survival mechanism.
(Argent-nit, in the “original story”, if you will, got trapped in a scary place and had to be saved by someone else.  We know that to be true, based on the rubrics Argent-nit. appears in, in the Repertory: the Delusion rubrics, the Dream rubrics and so on; we can, therefore, “piece together” what must have been the “original story”.  So, when Argent-nit. is stressed, he will look for someone who can save him.  And, he thinks Dr. Marvin is a genius and is THE ONE who can make a difference, stop his panic disorder.  That is why he stops at nothing.  He feels his fear coming on, and he thinks DR. MARVIN!!!  He knows he can be of no help to himself, so he latches on to his savior.  It totally fits the original situation where someone else saved him.)

But isn’t Arsenicum the one that will actually beg someone to save him?

I’m not sure if I’ll call it “begging”?  Arsenicum will convince you that you have no other choice but to stay with him, because he could be dying at any minute, but it is more of a “you better, or else, you’ll be sorry” than begging with a “please”.  The people in his life actually almost feel threatened to stay.  Arsenicum is a master at manipulating the people in his life into thinking they have no choice, so he is actually telling you to stay with him, more than asking or begging.  Argentum, however, really does beg.  He doesn’t care if he totally humiliates himself in the process (something Arsenicum is less likely to do!), and you can feel the difference.  When Arsenicum asks you to stay, you get a creepy feeling in your stomach, and when Argentum asks, you just want to “shake him off” like a bug.  So, by listening to your own physical reaction, that in itself will give you a clue to the remedy.

That’s an excellent distinction!  Arsenicum becomes extremely clingy and draining of people’s energy and people are actually afraid to be with him because they know he will latch on and not let go!

True, and because he rules through instilling guilt in anyone who would even consider leaving his side, Arsenicum becomes more unpopular than ever!  After a few weeks, or months of this, the people at his side will probably breathe a huge sigh of relief when he finally does go!  No wonder he has the delusion that nobody likes him very much!  The only problem is, HE is the one who makes it so!

Both remedies are afraid of dying, and both want people to be there for them, but there are still differences.  Argent-nit is more like a child who doesn’t want mommy to leave him alone, but he will never threaten or create guilt, or try to convince someone intellectually (or financially) why they have to stay with him.

Arsenicum will argue: “I have always supported you, where would you be now without me?  You will get everything when I die – this is the least you can do!  Feel my heart!  It is racing!  By next week I will be gone!  Can’t you spare one week for me?  How can you be so selfish?  I’m not asking for much…Just for someone to be by my side for a few more days…How hard can it be?”

And of course, next week comes, and they’re not dead!

Of course!  It will take months, years, and there is nothing you can do to get away, unless you are prepared to be severely scolded.  So, basically, you sit there, but you feel incredibly trapped.

Argent-nit wouldn’t try to convince you with guilt-producing logic.  He would rather try to make you see how much he needs you, but without guilt.

So, if you want to distinguish between the two, just look inside and see how much guilt there is.  If you feel like a criminal for wanting to get away, you are dealing with Arsenicum.  If you just want a break, without feeling guilty, you are dealing with Argentum Nitricum.

So, in a sense, Arsenicums are incredibly cunning about getting what they want, and Argentum is much more innocent and upfront about his feelings.

There are other differences, too, like Arsenicum’s obsession about food and delusions of being poisoned.  Argentum is more superstitious, looking for bad signs of things. So, there are subtle differences.  Remember, Argentum didn’t get poisoned in the original story, but Arsenicum did!  So, if Argentum finds someone who can help him, he totally trusts that person.  Arsenicum, however, doesn’t trust anyone, not even his closest family members.  So, the clue is to remember the different core situations, and then look for signs that point to one or the other.

Arsenicum is always thinking that anyone can betray him (or even poison him) at any time, and Argentum thinks that bad things can happen out of nowhere at any moment.  (“What if this happens, what if that happens…?”) This is what motivates his actions, so if you know where they might be coming from, you can more easily recognize what story you are dealing with, and then pick the right remedy.

This is also why Arsenicum is usually the one who will receive the wrong medicine from his doctor, or a medicine that will make him so allergic that he actually dies from it.  Why?  Because it goes with his story:  He trusts his doctor, and the doctor poisons him.

Argentum is more likely to receive a wrong diagnosis, and go from being fine one minute to being in a crisis the next, because that is what goes with Argentum’s story. So, if you think that giving someone the wrong medication is just an accident, think again.  If Arsenicum needs to experience his core situation again, the doctor will simply play his part.

So, Mati, we often think of Arsenicum as being a remedy for end-of-life anxiety/fear/clinging issues.  This often means “clinging to people”.  This picture can also be seen in fevers, flus, any illness accompanied by fear of death and clinging for support.  Do we EVER see Argent-n. in these situations?  I think, again, of Bob, lying in bed in an anxiety state, “The Brady Bunch” playing in the background for “company”, dialing Dr. Marvin’s answering service saying, “Could you just call Dr. Marvin for me, please?  Betty, please?”  It certainly seems to fall under “begging”, which, in Murphy’s Repertory has 11 remedies, Arsenicum being the only “3” and Arg-n isn’t there.  I take it you think it should be added?  But Mati, taking just this scene alone, how do you rule out Arsenicum here?  Maybe we need to explain what the Argent nit. acute anxiety state looks like.  If this IS the Arg-n. acute anxiety state, then how would Arsenicum differ?  Would Arsenicum be more demanding and less diplomatic?

You are talking different fears here.  Arsenicum’s fear is more specific – fear of death, fear of sickness, fear of being poisoned.  All Arsenicum’s fears are rooted in his core story where he was betrayed and possibly poisoned by someone he knew and trusted, and almost lost his life as a result.  Argentum’s fears are not specific at all – they are totally based on “what ifs.”  Bad things can happen at any moment, from anywhere!  This makes Argentum feel very unsafe in his environment, and he knows that he needs help from someone and when he finds that person, he will totally trust him.  If there is trust, then you can forget about Arsenicum.  Arsenicum doesn’t even trust his own homeopath.

When you are in the end phases of your life, there is no more “what ifs.”  Death is certain, and there is no escape, and this will trigger an Arsenicum state with its classic fear of death and suspicion and mistrust about everyone who is trying to help him (or waiting to inherit his stuff).

In Argentum, it isn’t the here and now, and certainty, that is bothering him.  It is all the things that COULD happen, that hasn’t even happened yet, that becomes his neurosis.  If bad things have already happened, and everything becomes certain, he’ll definitely look for someone who can save him, and he’ll worry about death, too, but dying isn’t Argentum’s core fear.  It is dealing with uncertainty that causes him to panic.

So, at the end of life, I would not give Argentum – if someone can’t let go for fear of death, Arsenicum is the right remedy, it is as simple as that.  Arsenicum deals with fear of death through out their lives, and when death actually approaches, the fear comes to a peak!  This is their main chance to learn that there is no death – only a change of forms.  All you have to do is stop resisting, and the spirit will be free! 

Mati, in the movie, Dr. Marvin says that Bob has broken the trust between them and tells him to go to the ER and stop calling; he then hangs up.  Bob replies (to himself), “Oh, that was not smart, that was not smart!” How did you view that?  To me, he seemed to be saying, “Now you’re in for it, Dr. Marvin!”  Am I imagining things or is this really the way Arg-n. would act in an anxiety state?  What was your take on that scene?

That’s not what I saw, Elaine.  He isn’t trying to get even with Dr. Marvin, he is just upset with himself that his plan back-fired.

Oh!  I totally misread that!

He knew that he “blew it,” and it’s more of an “oh, no!” feeling.  He really wants Dr. Marvin’s attention, and he just realized that his plan didn’t have the effect he was hoping it would have.  So, he instantly thinks about other possibilities – how about pretending that “Bob” just committed suicide?  Perhaps if Betty, from the answering service, thought Bob was dead, she would reveal Dr. Marvin’s location to “the FBI Investigator” (Bob).  So, Bob finds out where Dr. Marvin is, and manages to overcome his fears enough to get on a bus and go there, but what you see through the whole movie is Bob “winging it.”  He makes everything up as he goes, and there is nothing cunning about him.  He is so innocent, he doesn’t even realize that Dr. Marvin isn’t anyone he should really trust.  And it is this impulsive innocence that points towards Argentum.  

Yes, just as Nancy Herrick said.  Impulsive innocence.

Creativity is one of the main characteristics of Argentum – this is why they are so good at problem solving.  They have very creative minds, and they are able to come up with both creative and original ideas.  The only problem is, that when Argentum is in a state of imbalance, he also uses his mind creatively to come up with more or less imaginary problems.  Like Bob, when he says, “What if I can’t find a bathroom, and my bladder explodes!”  It isn’t likely that anyone’s bladder explodes, but if your mind is creative enough, anything can look like a possibility!

So, in Bob, we see the innocence, the spontaneity, the creativity and the trust, and these are not qualities you find in Arsenicum.  Arsenicum calculates everything!

Got it!  So, Mati, if I’m taking a case and suspecting Argent-nit, should I be looking for clues that there’s someone in Argent-nit’s life that he’s inflicting himself on? Tormenting?  Is it possible to be Argent-nit. and not do this to people?

Again, we are not talking about a natural, balanced state of Argentum Nitricum, we are talking about a very imbalanced state.  So, the clinginess is dependent on the level of imbalance.  Therefore, yes, they aren’t always so clingy.  But, I think it is safe to assume that if they are coming to see a homeopath, they need help because their energy is out of balance, so that is the picture I am describing.
My advice is to not get hooked on any one symptom, or just a few symptoms when taking someone’s case.  This isn’t about prescribing on key symptoms, this is about getting an idea about how their whole life situation creates a pattern that gives you a clue what the original story was, as well as how the person compensates.  The more you can perceive of this whole picture, the better the remedy will fit, because it has to be similar, not just to the single symptoms, but to the whole situation.  I think that is where my approach is different from many other homeopaths.

I’m suddenly thinking of Agoraphobia.  It seems like you would almost have to be an Argent-nit to have this disorder.  Every Agoraphobic I’ve ever met has said the same thing: “What if I’m out of the house and have a heart attack?  What if I’m out of the house and I faint, how will I get home?  What if I go to a party and I suddenly have to leave but my ride isn’t ready to go?  What if I go to the theater but I can’t get an aisle seat?”

In fact, can we say that, regardless of the diagnosis, anyone who presents their case this way is Argent-nit?

Yes, I think Argent-nit is the most likely one.  There are other remedies that also cover Agoraphobia, such as Phosphorus, Sepia and Gelsemium, but the reason why they don’t want to go out is different.  Phosphorus may not want to go out because she might be scared to go out alone.  Sepia may not want to go out because she is depressed and exhausted and just wants to hide under a rock like a squid….

Right, right, I see what you mean.  You have to ask Why.

So, if someone has Agoraphobia, that in itself doesn’t indicate which remedy they need.  We have to find out WHY they have it, and what they are thinking.  So, if someone says: “what if this happens, what if that happens,”  I would definitely think of Argent-nit.

There are so many overlapping symptoms between remedies, but there are no overlapping core stories, which lead to a core delusion about the person’s reality, which then leads to a change of action in the form of compensation.  This is the picture that we have to match the remedy to, not just lists of symptoms.  We have to look at the whole situation (core story + delusions + compensation), and that is where my method of case taking differs from other homeopaths.

I would like to invite our readers to, first of all, buy Mati’s book, Beyond the Veil of Delusions (which, by the way, has a new cover now, so, don’t let that throw you.) Amazon has it.

Beyond the Veil of Delusions: Understanding Relationships Through  Homeopathy: Fuller, Mati H.: 9780615171388: Books


About the author

Elaine Lewis

Elaine Lewis, D.Hom., C.Hom.
Elaine is a passionate homeopath, helping people offline as well as online. Contact her at [email protected]
Elaine is a graduate of Robin Murphy's Hahnemann Academy of North America and author of many articles on homeopathy including her monthly feature in the Hpathy ezine, "The Quiz". Visit her website at: and

About the author

Mati Fuller

Mati H. Fuller, DIHom (Pract) was born and raised in Bergen, Norway and came to the United States in 1985. She lives and practices in Colorado and is author of "Beyond the Veil of Delusions, Understanding Relationships Through Homeopathy." [email protected]


  • very well done … very clearly specify curical differance between two remedies … thank u for sharing …. keep it up … blessings
    Dr. Prof. Shaikh G. Sadiq M.D., Ph.D

  • I loved this differential between arg-nit/ars! Interesting because I have prescribed Ars (constitutional) with arg-nit when needed (on acutes) with success…

  • Hi Elaine and Mati.liked a lot of your way to sort out the differencec between ars. and arg.nit. It was very “lighting up” reeding. Thanks a lot for sharing this. Pirjo

  • Thanks for the feedback, Pirjo! Don’t forget to buy Mati’s book for more of the same!

  • Thanks for linking to this movie, and your insightful article. Also love Mati’s book.

  • I’m one of those people who really benefits from being able to “see” the remedy in characters, so the “Bob” character Bill Murray creates helps me to really understand the Arg. Nit. remedy so much more clearly! The Arsenicum is one I know–Madame Bovary (so much more clear in the book than in any of the film representations–and so telling that she dies of Arsenic poisoning, herself)…and my dad! But to see the distinctions played out this way–this is such a good way to better understand a patient. Great article!

    p.s. I’ve seen “What About Bob” so many times…it’s such a fun movie…but I fear that the repetitive watching says something about me. To be honest, though, I’ll watch Bill Murray any time I can, in anything he’s done (he’s great in Lost in Translation, too, a character who reminded me of a matured, sober, maybe even depressed version of “Bob”).

Leave a Comment