Homeopathy is Not a Drug and Other Babbles

Posted on 28 Mar 2011 21:42

Recently I published some information on homeopathy from the 10:23 Campaign. This is a group that has staged some public mass homeopathic drug "overdoses". Don't worry it ain't no Jim Jones thing. It's a simple demonstration of the fact that no amount of a homeopathic drug can harm you because there is simply nothing in it but water and sugar.

Such demonstrations are nothing new. As far back as 1992 Pierre Rossion published an article in Science etVie where he described ingesting 10 tubes of homeopathic arsenic (Arsenicum album). These were many different preparations which covered the gamut of dilution from 4CH to 30CH. Arsenic is a popular poison for would-be murderers. It is prescribed by homeopaths for food poisoning, anemia, depression, and fatigue. Rossion took an obviously suicidal dose! Not. Not only did he not die; nothing happened at all. 7,8 Now why is this important?

The more ignorant among us might say that the inability of a "drug" to ever poison us is a good thing. In fact this may underscore the idea that natural means safe. Homeopathic drugs are supposed to be natural after all.

The chemicals in drugs are natural as well. Herbs contain chemicals. In fact, due to the nature of plants you can never be sure how much of an active chemical you may be getting. Thus compounding the danger of side-effects from some chemicals which have a therapeutic window or "therapeutic index". Below this window they are useless and above this they are toxic. This is one of the reasons for choosing standardized herb products. The therapeutic window is a standard feature of any substance which has a physiological action. You should be able to see this intuitively if you simply understand that our systems work by maintaining a balance or "homeostasis". Any physiological system that gets out of whack upsets this balance and for balance to be regained this system must be brought back under control. Ironically, homeopathy uses the concept of homeostasis to lend credence to it's ideas about the body healing itself, using nonsense flowery language to turn a scientific concept into a farce.

Certain chemicals can have a direct affect on certain biological systems. When something is "out of whack" the right amount of this chemical can bring it back under control. You can easily surmise that if the 'right' amount of a chemical can affect a system just enough to normalize it then too much of a certain chemical can make things swing the other way. The therapeutic window, then, simply means that under a certain amount a drug is useless as there is not enough of it to affect the target system. At a certain amount it affects the target system in the desired way. And over this certain amount, which is a range of dosing, it is harmful. So, we can't have our cake and eat it to. Those who cannot accept this reality imagine all sorts of fanciful things about herbs and about homeopathy. But, herbal medicines, just like pharmaceuticals, have a therapeutic window.

Real drugs, when consumed past a certain point will seriously harm us. Acetaminophen, which is the generic name of the drug found in Tylenol and also in many prescription drugs such as Vicoden and Percocet, is one of the most tried, true, and trusted analgesics and fever reducers ever. And it is particularly dangerous. It is so dangerous, in fact, that over the counter acetaminophen preparations have been regulated to a maximum dose for a while now and recently, prescription pain medications containing the drug have also been similarly regulated. The potential for overdose is very strong because the liver cannot quickly clear any excess drug and potentially fatal liver damage can occur. Despite this, it is considered safe when taken as directed.

If someone were to stage a mass overdose of Tylenol we'd have a mass suicide. If someone stages a mass overdose of "homeopathic sleeping pills" we have a bunch of wide awake and not so dead people. The absence of "harm" is actually an indication, in this case, that there is not enough of anything in the drug to harm us. If it seems like I am hammering away at the obvious, apparently I need to because according to the social love given to this ridiculous and comical article on Natural News, the public is largely deluded. I rarely resort to words like ignorant, but in this case I make an exception. Most of the statements made in this article are the gibbering of the ignorant and deluded. Among the more ridiculous statements:

Homeopathy is not a drug.

No, "homeopathy" is not a drug. It is a "medical system". Note the term "medical" from which we get "medicine" as well. Homeopathic preparations, which are largely the point of homeopathy, do claim to be drugs or "medicines". Using the broadest definition possible, a drug is any substance that alters the body's biological functions for the purposes of treating, curing, or preventing a disease or other condition. Trying to say that the products of homeopathy are not drugs is a weak cop-out at best. And complete ignorance for sure. Keep in mind that I mean that they claim to be drugs. I do not think they really are drugs.

Take a good close look at the image of the product label below, which I will further discuss later. Feeling rundown. Body aches. Chills. Fever. Looks like a drug. Take a close look at the most popular off-the-shelf homeopathic products and you will find the term Homeopathic medicine. What is a medicine? It is a substance or combination of substances which is administered to a person in order to restore, correct, or modify a physiological function. In other words, it is a drug.

Equivocation is a frequent tact of the crank. Using a word to mean one thing here, another there. Homeopathic remedies are medicines or drugs here, when we want to claim they treat these specific symptoms, and not medicines later on when we want to claim they work by some mysterious means by which drugs do not.

Homeopathy isn't a chemical. It's a resonance. A vibration, or a harmony

I've got nothing to say about that one. It speaks for itself! Belief, baby. Makes fools of us all.

The entire point of that article is that something that is entirely safe no matter how much of it you consume is inherently better than something that can cause harm if consumed in excess. Coupled with the unquestioned belief in the mysterious mechanisms of homeopathy this shouldn't be surprising. Too bad that by this theory many of the foods we eat should be considered dangerous toxins as compared to homeopathic drugs! So, in fact, should water, since, if consumed in large enough quantities quickly enough, can cause what is called "water intoxication" or hyponatremia. This occurs when the sodium in our body becomes too diluted. Given, this is a very unusual occurrence and it is due really not to the amount of water, although it takes a lot, but to how quickly you consume it.

However, as an example, infants can easily be over-hydrated with water as they are not as able to react to their own thirst and are often given lots of water to combat dehydration from gastroenteritis or from diluted formula. This is exactly why products such as Pedialyte were developed. So that parents can be assured that their infant is hydrated safely when suffering from gastrointestinal distress. I have used such products myself. The point is, however, that too much of anything that "has an effect" can cause harm. Water has an effect on the body's biological processes. Therefore there is a way to over-indulge it. The only way to over-indulge in most homeopathic remedies is if you are diabetic and can't handle the sugar.

The skeptics who take all these drugs are incapable of understanding high-vibration advanced medicine

Now, this is my favorite. It's nice how the existence of these effects are assumed. Vibrations are so very natural. And advanced. This is exactly why I used the term "gibbering" before. As in gibberish. I suspect that many of the holistic health "experts" out there are simply baffled by actual technical descriptions and so are attracted to such baffling gibberish as "high-vibration advanced medicine". It is another standby of cranks to claim that the skeptical establishment is simply incapable of understanding their claims. The "skeptics" however, tend to use real and known terms rather than fanciful made-up ones based on the strange manifestations of nature that do not coincide with any known physical laws.

I do not understand, completely, how an automobile engine works. But it is possible to observe one working in nature and to drive a car. So I do not need to understand how an engine works to have considerable evidence of its existence and usefulness. If I could likewise see the vibrations working and somehow quantify their effect, such as how I quantify the effect of my engine's driving my wheels, I would not need to understand "how" they work to be assured that they exist and do work. Clearly, "you just don't understand" is not a very good come back to "there is absolutely no evidence to support your claims". Think of gravity. Think of how water changes state from a liquid to solid to gas. We don't question the existence of these things regardless of how well we understand their mechanisms.

The great thing about vibrations are that they are safe. You need not FEAR them like you should fear Big Pharma. If you're getting the sarcasm here then you get that an "appeal to fear" is a rhetorical device and should not be considered a logical argument. Everything has consequences and many of the things that make life possible can also hurt us. As I brought up recently in Cranks and Crackpots many of the CAM crowd on the internet tend to be fear-mongers. It is a special weakness that would cause a person to want to scare us into believing what they believe. So let me be clear about something. Many CAM therapists sincerely desire to help their patients. Those who are sincere about helping and truly embrace the phrase first, do no harm would never seek to HARM you by instilling unreasonable fear or negative emotion in you.

Most of the scare tactics involve the various things of the world which are not "natural", such as pharmaceuticals, processed food, vaccines, and just about anything that would not help the claimant make money. If these people could make money by attacking the sun and having us all live underground in fear of its rays, they would. And yet, the sun can harm us. The article in question relies on emotive language, trying to make us fearful, angry, and out for revenge against the evil Big Pharma. Similarly, in the last few paragraphs I have relied on ridicule and condescension for a similar effect. However, in self-defense, I have done it simply to get your attention rather than to convince you as I have not relied on emotional tactics in place of logical arguments.

Notice, as well, that I have attempted draw parallels between many different people and lump them together in a class, by using the example of CAM enthusiasts on the internet and therefore generalizing the opinions expressed in the article I am discussing with many different types of CAM proponents who might use fear as a persuasive tactic. I bring this up because many readers may not notice it. Especially since I used a specific practice, fear mongering, to draw these parallels. Many different alternative medicine proponents do rely on fear tactics but they don't all do it for money or for any one reason, as I tried to claim. I am being quite specific, though in talking about a subset of CAM proponents who use fear tactics. It may be hard to notice unless I bring it up. The unfortunate thing is that even more obvious and ridiculous generalizations, as in this NaturalNews article, are hard to notice.

There, all "skeptics" are treated as one distinct group. The overriding assumption is that all skeptics believe certain things. And they all believe the same things. Notwithstanding the fact that skeptical thinking has nothing to do with "belief" it is fair to say that this is an unfair assumption! However, not only are skeptics lumped together but they are then connected to "Big Pharma" and to the mysterious "they". While I think my generalizations of those who use fear to persuade us can be defended to try to claim that "skeptics" are in league with the pharmaceutical companies is a particularly weak bit of bullshit.

Baffling Homeopathic Bullshit

Bringing up a bunch of nonsense about vibration of electrons is what is known as "baffling them with bullshit". To be clear, homeopathy purports to exert an actual biological effect on the body. The various remedies, via the "law of similars" rely on actual plant, animal or other ingredients to do this. Thus coffee, in keeping us awake, can also make us sleepy, if diluted enough via the "law of infinitesimals". The extreme dilution is necessary to prevent side effects. It doesn't matter that there is so little (none) of the ingredient left in the water because the water 'remembers' the properties of the ingredient. The stuff about vibrations, along with other explanations, were invented later on to explain how the water goes about remembering these properties.

This is a central component to homeopathic remedies. The idea is you find out what problems or symptoms the patient is having and you look for specific herbs or even stone minerals that may produce those same symptoms. If you are trying to treat high blood pressure you would look for something that caused high blood pressure. Then you would dilute it down so that there is less of it in your preparation than there is bits of matter in vast space between the stars. Much less in fact. And it would then somehow do the opposite.

So lets cut through all the bullshit about advanced vibration medicine. The ingredients used in homeopathic preparations are chosen because they are thought to have a direct biological effect on the body.

What is so ironic about the claims made in the article is that many of the favorite traditional ingredients in homeopathic preparations are the most poisonous plants around! Belladonna, for instance, is a standby ingredient. Now there is not enough of belladonna in most of these products to harm you. That is, ahem, there is no belladonna in them. But obviously, the plant is selected based on a belief in its specific effects and not on some fanciful "vibrations".

However, with an increasingly popular CAM category come increasing dangers. Recently there were adverse reactions reported from Hyland's Homeopathic Teething Tablets for infants which were found by the FDA to contain inconsistent amounts of belladonna.

Another ironic thing about homeopathic preparations is the frequent "anti-science" stance of its proponents coupled with the fancy scientific sounding names given its ingredients. Thus potash, for instance, becomes Kali Bichromicum. This is otherwise known as Potassium Dichromate or Bichromate of Potash. Not only is it good in homeopathic medicines, it's also very good in wood stains.

Let's say you were to ingest a bunch of Potassium dichromate or Kali Bichromicum. What might you experience? Abdominal pain. Burning sensation. Diarrhea. Nausea. Shock or collapse. Vomiting. What if you got it on your skin or in your eyes? Redness, burning sensation, blurred vision, pain. Dermatitis is the most common problem as it is used in many products which can come into contact with skin.1

This stuff is used in cement and in tanning leather. And as said above it is also used in wood stains and as a wood treatment in general. It is toxic, potentially fatal, corrosive, and is considered a carcinogen. What's this about evil Big Pharma and safe homeopathy? Again, you are not going to overdose on potassium dichromate from a homeopathic drug. Not because the chemical is safe but because it's incredibly diluted.

In case I am not driving this home, looking for "harmful" things and then diluting them into homeopathic medicines is not only limited to plants and minerals. For example, if a bacteria causes certain diseases, then homeopathy would have it that this bacteria would also cure the diseases. So you might find Anas barbariae hepatis et cordis extractum in a homeopathic medicine. That sounds therapeutic, doesn't it?

Extract of Duck and Liver Heart

Well, that is a fancy name for an extract of duck liver and heart. See there was this guy named Roy around about 1917. There was an influenza epidemic in Spain about that time and this Doctor Roy examined the blood of a bunch of flu patients and imagined that he saw this "oscillating bacterium". He called it Oscillococcus. Not only did he see this in the blood of flu patients but he also saw it in herpes and chicken pox which we now know to be viral diseases. He even thought he saw it in cancer patients. He made the astounding leap that this bacterium was causing all sorts of disease like eczema, cancer, tuberculosis, measles, etc.

He then went about searching for this bacteria in other places until he found it in duck liver. Naturally, he prepared a medicine from an extract of duck liver. You may notice a similarity here to the ideas behind vaccines. Except vaccines are used as a preventative. Once someone has the disease, it is too late to use even a real vaccine, let alone a homeopathic preparation.

You may be wondering how the sugar comes in since I said that homeopathic remedies are made by diluting the ingredient many times in water as well as perhaps a solvent like alcohol. Well, they take this extremely dilute (infinitely dilute, folks) solution and they place one drop of it on a sugar tablet. I would assume that a drop of water, and certainly alcohol, would simply evaporate from the sugar tablet. Therefore, we can only assume that the water, which remembered the properties of the active ingredient, tells the sugar pill about these properties and the sugar pill, being of sound mind, remembers the properties, and somehow tells your body's cells about them.

Belladonna and Wolf's Bane

Shall I go on? Besides Belladonna, Aconitum napellus is another ingredient that may be found in any homeopathic remedy for stress or nervousness, or a sleep-aid or calming product. This is an herb otherwise known as "Monk's Hood" or "Wolf's Bane". Before this herb found it's way into Traditional Chinese Medicine and homeopathic remedies it was very popular, you guessed it, as a poison. The stuff was smeared onto arrowheads and spearheads and just as a murder weapon in general. Aconite, from which it gets it's name, is just one of the poisonous compounds the plant contains. Aconite is a neurotoxin and it would exert its effect by causing cardiac arrhythmia. Patients with aconite poisoning have neurological, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Numbness and paresthesia in the face, perioral area, and limbs; muscle weakness in the limbs, hypotension, chest pain, tachycardia, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea and death caused mainly by heart arrhythmia.2.

Monk's Hood is one of the remedies listed in Hahnemann's Materia Medica Pura from 1846, upon which time he attacks the vulgar practices of traditional medicine, which he, ironically, named Allopathic which is the monicker of mainstream medicine today, having shed its negative connotations. In his usual specious manner he describes this poisonous herb as almost miraculous in it's healing powers against measles, pleurisy, and inflammatory fevers, provided it is taken alone as a dose "of the thousandth part of a drop of the thirtieth dilution". A second dose should not even be needed! But let's keep in mind that homeopathy is not a drug. I'd tend to agree based on this. Sounds like magic.6

This brings us back to the therapeutic window or therapeutic index. Even if aconite could be used for something the window between it's useful dosage and fatal dosage would be so narrow it would be impossible to dose safely. Therefore, not many herbalists would use plants containing this or other highly toxic alkaloids these days. Except for homeopathy, which easily side-steps the danger by not actually having any of it's claimed ingredients in the stuff! But remember, the "theories" of homeopathic medicine are directly opposed to the dose-response relationship of modern pharmacology.

Now, Naturopaths use herbal preparations as well. The difference is that even a naturopath would not be so daft as to tell you that these herbal ingredients act via mysterious processes rather than by acting directly on the body's physiology. They may have some quite imaginative views of how plants exert these effects, such as how the body "metabolizes the organizing power of nature" when it metabolizes an herbal ingredient or that human physiology is harmonized with nature through the ingesting of herbs, by way of the body's "neuroreceptors". While this is clearly nonsense the difference here is that these herbalists select ingredients based on specific physiological effects they believe it to have. Such as by affecting the immune system. At the same time, you may find a naturopathic therapist prescribing herbs because of their antioxidant properties.4

So with Naturopathy, we have something that happens quite often. Science is attacked while it's very terms, and indeed, its principles are called on as evidence. But at least Naturopathy claims to be it's own kind of science. Naturopathy does not claim to use things that Allopathic (or Osteopathic) medicine would never use, it simply claims to use them better, or more 'holistically'. Clearly, homeopathic preparations claim to use the same type of ingredients that herbal medicines use in general and from which modern medicines are derived. Yet, homeopathic "remedies" claim to NOT be drugs. Convenient, to say the least.

Some Other Homeopathic Cures

Do you still need more convincing of just how lame-brained and ridiculous homeopathy really is? Do you not think that some of the descriptions I gave above are enough to convince anyone that a homeopathic medicine will do NOTHING to cure the illness it is claimed to treat? Well, here are some others, courtesy of Steven Pray, professor of pharmacy 8:

  • Bronchial Cancer: How else would you treat bronchial cancer? You'd make an extract of actual bronchial cancer cells! Diluted down to impossible levels, of course. The rationale, if any exists, would be "like cures like."
  • Vomiting: This one should be obvious. Ever heard of Ipecac? It's what your mom may have given you, back in the day, if you ate something you weren't supposed to. A syrup made from a plant called the ipecacuanha plant, it used be used in cough medicines, then it was used for a long time, you guessed it, to make you vomit. Now, I don't know about you, but when I have a terrible stomach virus and I'm puking my guts up, the first thing I think is, "I should take something to induce vomiting." Yep. Well, to a homeopath, the way to cure vomiting is of course, to use something that induces vomiting. Don't worry though, you can take all of the homeopathic vomiting cure you want to. As you already know by now, it certainly won't make you vomit! Although that Ipecac syrup your mom gave you for sure did.
  • Homesickness: Now this is one of my favorites. At least I can sort of see the logic in somebody deciding that "like cures like." But they actually have a cure for homesickness? Well, according to Pray, they do. It's red pepper. You see, I'll bet you didn't know this, but red pepper makes you feel homesick. So, of course…
  • Asthma: This one is just shocking. At least it would be if you figured there were any actual ingredients in a homeopathic medicine. As is, it's just plain amusing. One of the most dangerous situations for a person suffering from severe asthma, allergies, or bronchial conditions, is a cockroach infestation. Besides being loaded with disease-causing germs, the powdered remains of their decomposing carapaces get in the air and irritate the bronchial passages, cause allergic reaction, etc. Therefore, to a homeopath, when someone has asthma, a little cockroach extract is just what the "doctor" ordered.
  • Diaper Rash: Poison Ivy! Of course, you are also supposed to keep baby clean and dry before applying the infinite poison ivy dilute.

Given, most of these are probably out of date in terms of mass-marketed homeopathic formulas. Most of them seem to be a random mix of herbal extracts these days. Some of the herbs with a scientific-sounding name, which, should you search for it, you'll never find..because it's never mentioned anywhere else except on the label of the medicine. But if you can imagine using some mosquito-infested swamp water to prevent malaria, you're getting the picture of what homeopathy is all about.

By the way, do you happen to fear dying? It's arsenic for you, then!

Homeopathy and Personalized Treatment

Oscillococcinum is one example of many homeopathic preparations which are sold as treatments for general and broad conditions. I want to really hammer this home. There are many homeopathic products which claim to be general and broad treatments for common ailments. Ok. Like Oscillococcinum claims to treat the flu. Likewise, there are many headache formulas. And stress formulas. And high blood pressure formulas. Etc. No doubt that many homeopaths will readily tell you that duck liver extract cannot possibly be equally efficacious on all patients. But in so doing they would also have to deny the general effectiveness of a host of other products, thereby springing a handy little trap for themselves.

Yet, homeopaths routinely deny the value of double-blind testing and placebo controls. It does not apply to homeopathy, they say, because homeopathic remedies are "tailored to the individual patient". Not just for the specific symptoms. Oh, no! It is their "temperament" and "biotype" that is important as well. What do you think they say when you ask them about all these products that are sold as general treatments and claim to treat general symptoms, clearly NOT being "tailored to an individual"? Nothing, of course.8

The problem is that homeopaths simply claim that there exists no valid test whatsoever to that can ever adequately ascertain its effectiveness or ineffectiveness. It cannot be verified because it is individualized. Something that cannot ever be verified or "proven" is, by definition, false and without substance and only based on the belief and faith of its practitioners. Conveniently, as well, there is now way to ever test whether a preparation is truly homeopathic, since there is nothing to detect, unless you believe that there are magnetic vibrations in the water that can be detected and held as proof that the medicine is genuine. But what you'd be trying to prove is that plain water is something other than plain water! Hence the old joke about homeopathy: Did you hear about the guy who accidentally overdosed? He took regular water by mistake!

Homeopathic Medicines are "Sensitive"

You won't believe just how sensitive they are. If you buy one, and it doesn't work (go figure) it's probably because you didn't handle it carefully enough and you didn't abide by the precautions.

For instance, one of those malaria preventatives, containing some known and unknown ingredients, had some interesting precautions. For one, according to the label, "This medicine must NEVER be opened!" Now that is worth a chuckle or two.

Also, smoking is prohibited before taking it. I guess this is because it's sensitive to nicotine. A little trivia for you, though. If you're a heavy smoker, and you wish to clean up that annoying "nicotine residue" in your body, a cup of coffee will do the trick. Smoke, drink coffee, smoke, drink coffee. You'll never get addicted to cigarettes. I don't know what you do about the caffeine addiction, though.

Alright, you can't brush your teeth with minty toothpaste within thirty minutes of taking the malaria medicine. You can't eat peppermints either. Or any "strong tasting sweets". I had a little trouble with that one. What is a strong tasting sweet? Strongly spiced food is out twenty minutes before. Oh, and if the bottle is exposed to strong odors, forget about it. Like, if any of you weight lifters take your malaria cure right after a tough workout, you're gonna get malaria, dude! Body odor will destroy the stuff.

1. "Potassium Dichromate - Toxicity, Ecological Toxicity and Regulatory Information." PAN Pesticide Database. Web. 28 Mar. 2011. <http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Chemical.jsp?Rec_Id=PC34228#Toxicity>.
2. Chan, Thomas Y.K. "Aconite Poisoning." Informa Healthcare. Informa Plc. Web. 28 Mar. 2011. <http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15563650902904407>.
3. McGraw, Dan. "Flu Symptoms? Try Duck - US News and World Report." US News & World Report | News & Rankings | Best Colleges, Best Hospitals, and More. Web. 28 Mar. 2011. <http://www.usnews.com/usnews/biztech/articles/970217/archive_006221_2.htm>
4. Naturopathic Handbook of Herbal Formulas: a Practical and Concise Herb User's Guide. Herbal Research Publications, 1995. Print.
5. Abgrall, Jean-Marie. Healing or Stealing: Medical Charlatans in the New Age. New York: Algora Pub., 2001. Print.
6. Hahnemann, Samuel. Translated by Charles, J. Hempel. Materia Medica Pura. Vol. 1. New York: William Radde, 18. ePub
7. "L'homéopathie Dans Tous Ses états." Scepticisme Et Esprit Critique En Santé, Médecine, Paranormal, Science, Pseudoscience, Technologie Et Impostures En Tous Genres. Web. 06 May 2011. <http://charlatans.info/homeo2.shtml>.
8. Abgrall, Jean-Marie. "What's Wrong with Homeopathy?" Healing or Stealing: Medical Charlatans in the New Age. New York: Algora Pub., 2001. 25-26. Print.
8. Pray, W. Steven. Nonprescription Product Therapeutics. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006.

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