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Potions have been the traditional solution for medical issues throughout history for populations within witch society. Witches were seen as the doctors of their community, treating people with various ailments (anxiety, pain, muscle spasms, etc.) with their magic brews. This excelled even further in the modern age with the rise of the pharmaceutical industry, with various companies competing with each other for customers. Gone are the days when people visited some witch hut in the woods. Today they can go down to their local pharmacy, stacked with drugs from corporations who produce them. Potion making is difficult and requires much preparation, which can take months or even years depending on the factors. Ingredients must be gathered and brewed in particular ways, requiring a skilled specialist who demands a high price for their services. Corporations spend billions of dollars a year making and promoting new potions, then selling them at premium prices to make back the cost. This can get very expensive, and keeps them out of the hands of less well-off customers who can't afford the high prices. In addition, they are bulky to carry around, and difficult to conceal. Who wants to pull out a glass container at the dinner table when one's symptoms are acting out? The industry has therefore determined a way to make the selling of cures more affordable to reach the hands of more customers.

The obvious solution to this would be to sell medication in pill form. Pills can easily be produced in large quantities for pennies and then sold at outrageous prices. Sometimes meds can be sold for hundreds of dollars a pill, such as Valium, resulting in enormous profit for the companies behind them. They are small and easily packaged, allowing for discretion and lack of shame for its users. On the verge of a nervous breakdown? Sleep deprived? Popping a Voldemortsium will cures what ails ya! These miracle drugs can take the industry to new heights, produced cheaply, in bulk, and sold at premium, racking in billions of dollars a year. This makes perfect business sense, and it would be foolish for any CEO worth his salt to not capitalize on this moment.

What would prevent the pharmaceutical industry from producing their products in bit sized form?

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    $\begingroup$ ## Nothing, duh... that IS what Big Pharma is doing. $\endgroup$ Dec 28, 2021 at 4:31
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    $\begingroup$ FYI, Valium runs about $3.50 (US) per pill. Not exactly hundreds of dollars. $\endgroup$
    – doneal24
    Dec 28, 2021 at 21:23
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    $\begingroup$ To expand on doneal24's comment: as a general rule, pills that treat rare or fatal conditions that are still protected under patent law are a lot more expensive than those that treat common or non-fatal conditions that have generic alternatives. So while Valium is relatively cheap, something like Zokinvy, Ravicti, Juxtapid, etc. can cost hundreds of dollars a pill. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Dec 28, 2021 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ Since the problem is underconstrained, I think it would help to know why you don't want this to happen. What part of the scenario is troublesome? The pills? The mass production? The wide availability? The high and low prices? The profit? $\endgroup$
    – Beta
    Dec 30, 2021 at 2:33
  • $\begingroup$ Because they want to appeal to different market audience. Some people prefer potions and some people prefer pills/tablets. It may be the case that in your world, significant fraction of people are skeptic or outright tend to dislike to ingest anything that looks "modern, manufactured, engineered". $\endgroup$ Dec 30, 2021 at 15:31

19 Answers 19

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Because potions are already in a concentrated form

Most liquid medicines manufactured by modern pharmaceutical companies can be turned into pills because the liquid form is often less than 3% active ingredients. Not so with potions. If a potion is instead made up of 30% active ingredients, then turning that potion into a pill would require a person to swallow something uncomfortably large.

We already see this with some medicines like certain cough syrups and antibiotics where they are still more popular in the liquid form despite there being a pill because the pills are just so darn big and hard to swallow. If you amplify this so that pills would have to be the size of golf ball (or taken in the form of 20 normal sized pills), just to contain all the active ingredients, then the liquid form would remain the preferred delivery system by consumers.

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  • $\begingroup$ having said this...is there any indication that traditional pre-pharma potion purveyors ever specified quantity of the finished product? In the movies, potions are always seen brewing in large cauldrons, but then dispensed in quantiles that fit the plot, a few drops in someone's tea, perhaps. Did IRL witches every say, finish this gallon jug in equal daily quaffs over the course of a month? $\endgroup$
    – CCTO
    Dec 30, 2021 at 20:13
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Potions are alcoholic.

Potions are tinctures because they need to be, for solubility reasons. It is difficult to encapsulate a tincture in an edible capsule - the ethanol makes its way out of the gelatin capsule. Capsules usually contain dry ingredients or ingredients in an oil base. Even plastic containers struggle to contain ethanol.

For tinctures it is going to stay glass.

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It's simply not possible by the Law of Similarity. Like produces like. A small, insignificant pill has a small, insignificant effect.

Besides, in a culture where potions are commonplace, taking a potion is no more shameful than popping a pill. Bulk is an issue, but perhaps a bag of holding can be devised.

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Magic is not amenable to mundane chemistry.

A pill or tablet takes the active compound(s) with expicients to simplify handling and to assure a consistent dosage. That's the result of a modern, scientific world view, and in a magical world it works for those who believe in it. Just as homeopathy sometimes works for those who believe, even if scientists would say that people are ingesting pure water.

So if the potion-based pill doesn't contain a spoonful eye of newt, it won't work. And if it does, it is not a little pill any more. It is a digestible container for the original potion. For a certain volume, a flask is more convenient.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 agree, our answers have some common grounds.. the gap between the witches medical tradition and "pharma" would be huge.. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Dec 27, 2021 at 22:59
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, don't drink the distilled water at a homeopathy conference. Likely to die from the reverse toxicity - more dilute is more potent, and infinitely dilute..... Yeahhhhhh! :) hehee $\endgroup$
    – Stilez
    Dec 29, 2021 at 7:14
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Pills have much shorter shelf life than equivalent potions.

The liquid components of potions act as a buffer to reduce the thaumaturgic dissipation of the potion's magic. The pills, since they encapsulate all the effects of the potion into a small space, also have a much higher thaumaturgic energy density than a potion, which makes the dissipation problems even worse. Adding the necessary stabilizers to pills to lower the dissipation to acceptable levels is possible but adds too much to the cost to make them practical to sell to the average consumer.

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This is one of the first things that Witch Apprentices learn.

Human Medicines have to be Water Magic as Humans are 98% water, therefore these medicines have to be in Liquid Form (ie potions). Dry crumbly pills work great for Trolls and other creatures of Earth, while gaseous concoctions are needed to cure Fairies and other WindSprites. Similarly Dragons and other creatures of Fire Magic need enchanted Flames to cure them.

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    $\begingroup$ FYI: the human body is not 98% water. We are about 75% water at birth, 65-70% water during childhood and only 50-60% water by the time we reach adulthood. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Dec 28, 2021 at 22:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki - in the Real World, you are correct, but I wanted to exaggerate somewhat to make it more of a difference in this scenario $\endgroup$
    – Dragonel
    Dec 29, 2021 at 14:05
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The law will prohibit it.

It is more or less what happened with LSD

Sandoz Laboratories introduced LSD as a psychiatric drug in 1947 and marketed LSD as a psychiatric panacea, hailing it "as a cure for everything from schizophrenia to criminal behavior, 'sexual perversions,' and alcoholism." The abbreviation "LSD" is from the German "Lysergsäurediethylamid". [...] On October 24, 1968, possession of LSD was made illegal in the United States. The last FDA approved study of LSD in patients ended in 1980, while a study in healthy volunteers was made in the late 1980s. Legally approved and regulated psychiatric use of LSD continued in Switzerland until 1993

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    $\begingroup$ .. with a large potion of sea water .... $\endgroup$ Dec 28, 2021 at 22:16
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    $\begingroup$ @doneal24 Not sure what you are trying to say here; although Wikipedia can be wrong or misleading, I don't see any problems here? LSD comes from the German name Lysergsäurediethylamid (Säure is German for acid), the quoted part did not say otherwise and its English name is irrelevant (it's not commonly called LAD). $\endgroup$
    – xngtng
    Dec 30, 2021 at 2:31
  • $\begingroup$ ... and the existence of a clinic trial also does not contradict the paragraph; it literally confirms it. LSD is not currently legally approved in Switzerland (it was approved as a medication for a brief period from 1988-1993) and the clinical trial is not FDA approved (since it does not concern the U.S.). The trial is also going very slowly due to regulatory reasons. $\endgroup$
    – xngtng
    Dec 30, 2021 at 2:32
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Hexes and Curses

The witches that don't want their potions to be mass produced due to Intellectual Property concerns will threaten (and likely perform) hexes and curses on the company and/or CEO to make sure their rights and property are not used against their wishes, and at a loss of personal profit or reputation.

Witches, even the good ones, aren't known for their willingness to share their recipes. These are closely guarded trade secrets that have been kept within the family for generations/centuries. These usually aren't for sale. Some witches might have sold out, but others don't want to. The ones that don't want to sell will have lots of various reasons for not wanting to, but hexes and curses will be the way they keep their spells and potions from being commercialized.

Forget lawsuits, no one wants the "forever food poisoning" curse. That's just nasty and a really rough way to die. A CEO might not care much about losing a couple million in a settlement, but they aren't going to stand (or sit) for 24/7 simultaneous vomiting and diarrhea.

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  • $\begingroup$ But witches are still people and thus sensitive to common luxuries. Luxuries can be bought with money. Corporations have lots of money. Ergo, corporations can either compensate witches 1) for their IP or 2) for their curse defence skills against other witches. (Surely, these curses are blockable or removable.) To quote the motto of the Shadowrun RPG where witches and alchemical potions exist alongside mega-corporations in a global (cut-throat) economy: “Pay the price!” $\endgroup$ Dec 29, 2021 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidFoerster, what you say is true, but witches tend to be very tradition bound. They learned it from their mother, who learned it from their mother who learned it from their mother, ad infinitum, and aren't going to give it to a "suit" for any price because of that family history. Some witches don't need or want anything other than the nature they already have access to. TVs, cubicles, BMWs, light beer, mansions, butlers, etc. don't interest them. They love walking barefoot through their garden and the forest finding their ingredients. $\endgroup$ Dec 29, 2021 at 16:46
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They work too well

The magic potions actually cure what ails you. That means... You don't come back as a repeat customer. So you spend billions of dollars coming up with your magic impotence cure, say, and instead of Viagra where people buy lots, people pop one and never have to take one again! Where's the profit?

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    $\begingroup$ Who said potion effects last forever? $\endgroup$
    – frеdsbend
    Dec 27, 2021 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ The OP is asking why not just turn the potions into pills. The assumption is that his pharma companies are already making potions, and he wants to know why they are not turning those into pills, not why they would market pills instead of potions. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Dec 27, 2021 at 22:17
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They don't know what the potion is for

Witches were seen as the doctors

Yes. They listen to their clients and they try and understand what the clients need. But unlike modern doctors when they choose which potion to give to a client they don't explain what the potion is doing or which part of the body it is going to heal. The magic is not just curing something, but choosing what to cure.

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Too many customer complaints

...For example:

LS,

Your Arthrosis potion B5612 does not work. You modern folks don't know what you're selling. When I was young, the potion was brewed by the witch and the cure took place in the presence of the witch. The witch would put fresh frog toes for Arthrosis, perform the spells needed, adding to the confidence of the patient.. Nowadays, you think your little flasks will do, without the spells, with only fermented frog toes in it.. and some wiseguy on WB is even proposing pills. Dream on ! The frog toes would be grinded and dried out completely, be unrecognizable.. I called it out for years, but you won't listen. You'll end up with millions of witches not being cured, because they don't believe it can work.

small k regards, Lizella Mistletoe, CA support Witch corp.

(Note: Letters like the above we receive every day, about our products. Of course, the active substances in B5612 are tested and balanced, frog toe extract IS part of our medicines, spells ARE carefully recorded and played back live, before packaging the capsules. When (ever) we're going to make pills, we'll test these pills too. But we'll have to slow down our developments now. Too many complaints from Google-witches who think they know it all. They don't grab our methods. And lots of witches have now resorted to alternative medicine instead. The discussion about these pills is very bad for sales. We expect this to cancel the pill project, at least for the foreseeable future)

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I think "arbitrary cultural preference due to historical quirk" is a valid possibility here. Even in our universe, pills are not universal. Medications for children are often provided in a syrup form. Pharmacies can prepare pill or powder forms into syrups or liquids for ingestion.

Consider cough syrups. They're almost always syrups. No reason they have to be. Could be pills. And pill forms are available. But that's just not what most people are used to.

Similarly, people in many cultures associate injections with greater effectiveness. It's routine in some countries for antihistamines, antibiotics, etc. available in pill form to be injected. Equally effective either way but the patients prefer that.

If medicines always came in liquid form, I would be a little leery of some pill. Why isn't it a liquid like it's supposed to be? Perhaps the attitude is re-enforced by a folk-misunderstanding of the medicine involved, like a belief that medicines have to mix in the blood to be effective, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ "Similarly, people in many cultures associate injections with greater effectiveness. " one potential reason is that you can dump whatever into the gluteus maximus and let it seep out into the bloodstream without anyone batting an eye ... and without it taking a bath in hydrochloric acid first. $\endgroup$ Dec 29, 2021 at 5:50
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Big Pharma is afraid of witches.

Witches are vengeful, and aren't keen on someone stealing the secret recipes of their potions.

Big Pharma seeks wealth, and the last thing they want is to make enemies with a witch.

Once it becomes known that Big Pharma's pill is made from the secret recipe of a witch's potion, it won't just be one witch they'll have to deal with - all witches will see them as a threat.

Game over Big Pharma.

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Because magical ingredients are so scarce and magical potions have such short shelf life that it prohibits any economy of scale and mass production.

As inspired by the Shadowrun universe: magic can cure some ailments that medicine cannot (or at least not as effectively/accessibly). Unfortunately, spells bound into alchemical products

  • only affect a single target (or possibly all targets within a small area) once,
  • have a very short shelf life in the range of hours (up to a couple of days by the most skilled alchemists with access to the rarest alchemical ingredients), too short (or too rare) to be packaged and shipped at scale,
  • often require active ingredients with a shelf life (usually hours to days and anti-proportional to the product’s potency) that cannot be mass-produced because their production/growth drains “mana” from its environment which is locally scarce (yet regenerates over time),
  • always require a piece of the alchemist’s strength proportional to the product’s potency and shelf life duration (in the same way as strenuous mental or physical work, i. e. it regenerates over time given basic sustenance or, in more severe cases, standard medical care),

and are thus unsuitable for mass production and distribution. (There are ways to alleviate the aforementioned scarcities but they require literal human blood sacrifices or other kinds of highly unethical and/or highly destructive behaviour which are quite “frowned upon” in most parts of the world.)

This leaves room in the market for “witch potions”:

  • An alchemist in a sufficiently large community might optimistically prepare alchemical products with a predictable demand, e. g. a hangover cure on Monday mornings or an instant gunshot wound cure in times of (gang-related) warfare, for immediate pick-up. Ingredients harvesting and delivery are planned accordingly.

  • Otherwise, all alchemy is bespoke and only accessible to whom it can be delivered within a couple of hours after production. This leaves the alchemist’s regional community. At most, one could organise a distribution system like we have today for organ transplants: put them on the next flight and charter one if you have to. But this only works if the alchemist and the customer are near suitable start and landing zones, usually urban centres with commercial airports, which is normally at odds with the next point.

  • In a similar vein, ingredients are much easier to source locally. Unfortunately, densely populated or polluted environments, i. e. most urban centres, are ill-suited for the growth of all but the most common alchemical ingredients. This leads to an economic advantage for “witch huts” in forests or abandoned areas even though it makes distribution harder since, obviously, most customers do not live in unpopulous areas and high-speed transport (e. g. aeroplanes) is equally scarce there.

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Isn't that what Big Natura does?

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    $\begingroup$ While I wholeheartedly agree, you might want to write out an explanation in your answer instead of just linking to an article; I personally don't really care about length so long as you're making a good point, but a lot of people here on StackExchange are just a tiny bit particular about it. $\endgroup$
    – The Daleks
    Dec 29, 2021 at 0:59
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I don't think it's really possible if there's one active ingredient. Even if that active ingredient needs to be liquid, it could be contained in something like a soft-gel which contains the liquid.

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Regardless, I don't think the previous answers (that there isn't enough active ingredient or it needs to be dissolved in alcohol for solubility) are compelling. My insight mostly comes from having interned at a pharmaceutical company which was dealing with bioavailability and solubility problems.

Most of the time, the reason why some active ingredient is present in some large amount is basically because the body doesn't uptake it very well: ie it literally is not that soluble. The solution that some clever lads from Australia came up with is relatively new and patented, but the gist of it is just to take what you have and smash it into extremely tiny particles to improve the surface area-to-volume ratio.

Using alcohol to keep something in solution merely just places whatever is dissolved in it into precipitation when the alcohol is absorbed by the body.

I would probably do something with two bottles (or one bottle with an internal division). Basically, two things magically react, and you want to administer them at the same time so that the magical reaction occurs inside the body. While this could be done with two pills, pills being solid could pose some issues with intermixture. Alternatively, one of the ingredients might only be a liquid at room temperature (eg ethyl alcohol).

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How things are digested matters.

Chemicals are frequently delivered in pill form because they are designed to be digested and absorbed by the body at a given rate - that's the reason for all those 'inactive' ingredients in a pill. A chunk of the pure substance (active ingredient) the size of the pill would probably kill you in almost all cases - at the very least it'd all hit you at once and then the effect would be over.

So, just as pills are specifically designed to stretch out the effect of their active ingredients, so are potions designed to do the opposite.

In order to function, the reagents of a potion (both material and immaterial) must be digested / consumed and inside of a human body, and reach a certain specific concentration within a specific timeframe. If that happens, a spell is cast with the drinker as the target. If it doesn't, the spell doesn't become cast - it may not have enough of the right magical energy, or it might need to use some property of a reagent, or have the person who drank the potion be a specific amount of drunk, etc, but for whatever reason, if you change that formula the spell doesn't work.

Perhaps it is possible to invent a spell that would have the same effect but might be triggered via some other, slightly different conditions, but nobody has found a reliable way to do that yet.

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Because it isn't perfect business sense

One of your assumptions is that a pill will be just as effective as a potion, that they can be produced in bulk, and that they can be made cheaply. But what if that is impossible?

It seems very simple to me; in order to get the magic you need in a pill, you either need more potent ingredients or a whole lot of ingredients to convert into a concentrate. Or, maybe you could just buy a bunch of potions to convert into a concentrated pill form.

What does this mean? Making pills isn't as cost-effective, especially when making them in bulk. Where pills shine is when someone with a whole lot of money wants something small, transportable, and highly concealable.

Otherwise, maybe pills are just dehydrated potions, or potions made without water; highly effective, but since water is needed for potions to be absorbed and utilized by the human body, they dehydrate the user, requiring them to drink massive amounts of water or else they shrivel up like a raisin and die.

Either way, I hope this helps!

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Magic simply does not work that way

In chemistry, you can always reduce to the active ingredients that achieve the desired effect, allowing you to produce a tiny little pill.

But magic is different. Magic is incorporeal, and the effect of the potion is the result of unique interactions between the magical aspects of all its components--including the liquids. Even the form of the liquids matters. Ice, for example, is magically different from water.

And the magic of a potion is not just the result of the potion's current state and ingredients. Each step of the process--adding ingredients, removing them, freezing or heating--cultivates changes to the potion's magical properties without introducing instability.

If you make the wrong changes at any step in the process, or even fail to make the right changes at the right time, the magical properties you have so carefully cultivated will become unstable and collapse, rendering your potion worthless in the best of cases. This applies just as much to the finished product as it does to the potion's creation.

Instead of crafting something physical from physical ingredients, you are using the innate magical properties of your ingredients the sculpt something purely and inherently magical, without ever being able to see it. Pull the wrong thread, and it all comes unraveled.

Some magical elixirs can be made solid. Some even as small as a pill. But each potion takes the form it must take. You cannot change a potion into a pill without brewing a completely different potion, with a completely different formula, which happens to have a similar effect--and very few have been discovered that are magically stable in solid form.

No, you cannot simply turn a potion into a pill. That would be base chemistry.

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