Materia Medica

Elaine and Mati Sort out Arsenicum and Argent-nit.

Elaine Lewis
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A fine differentiation between Arsenicum Album and Argentum Nitricum.

We’re going to ask you to watch a movie this time! Click on the video link below or copy and paste it to your search window — it’s a clip from “What About Bob?” the first ten minutes of the movie.  [update: Oh great!  The original link has been removed from youtube because of copyright infringement!  It was the first 10 minutes of the movie!  Now I’m going to have to substitute a different clip which won’t be as good!  But look, 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.] 

What About Bob

Bob is a classic remedy type, the question is, which one? Go ahead; 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-n. but here’s what throws me off, 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 and the answering service won’t give up his phone number; it sure looks like an Arsenicum anxiety state to me, what do you think?


Actually no. 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 be unlikely to endear himself to Mrs. Marvin and Sigi and Anna–Dr. Marvin’s family–the way he has. Does Arg-n. cover this endearing, personable quality?  Actually, come to think of it, it does!  Nancy Kerrick gave a speech on Arg-n. once and said they are very naive, innocent, overly open or friendly, you’re instantly their best friend, and Bob does have all of these traits!

Argent-nit. is eccentric and impulsive, and if he wants someone to save 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 being on vacation. So, being friendly is part of his survival instinct.
(Argentum, in the original story, got trapped in a scary place and had to be saved by someone else. So, when he is stressed, he will look for someone who can save him. And, he thinks Dr. Marvin is a genius after reading his book Baby Steps. So, he decides that Dr. Marvin is THE ONE who can make a difference. That is why he doesn’t stop at anything. He feels his fear coming, 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. So, Argentum, in his unbalanced state, is most likely to look for someone that can save 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”. He 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” 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 would never do!), and you can feel the difference. When Arsenicum asks you, 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.


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. Argentum 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 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 at the same time.

Argentum 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. This is what motivates their 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 generally think of Arsenicum as being a remedy for end-of-life anxiety/fear/clinging to life 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 Arg-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 Arg-n. 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?

About the author

Elaine Lewis

Elaine Lewis

Elaine Lewis, D.Hom., C.Hom. Elaine is a passionate homeopath, helping people offline as well as online. Contact her at 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

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."

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  • 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

  • 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”).