Homeopathy: Overdosing on nothing

By Synchronium · Jan 29, 2010 · Updated Jan 29, 2010 · ·
  1. Synchronium
    AT 10.23 am on 30 January, more than 300 activists in the UK, Canada, Australia and the US will take part in a mass homeopathic "overdose". Sceptics will publicly swallow an entire bottle of homeopathic pills to demonstrate to the public that homeopathic remedies, the product of a scientifically unfounded 18th-century ritual, are simply sugar pills.

    Many of the sceptics will swallow 84 pills of arsenicum album, a homeopathic remedy based on arsenic which is used to treat a range of symptoms, including food poisoning and insomnia.

    The aim of the "10:23" campaign, led by the Merseyside Skeptics Society, based in Liverpool, UK, is to raise public awareness of just exactly what homeopathy is, and to put pressure on the UK's leading pharmacist, Boots, to remove the remedies from sale.

    The campaign is called 10:23 in honour of the Avogadro constant (approximately 6 × 1023, the number of atoms or molecules in one mole of a substance), of which more later.

    That such a protest is even necessary in 2010 is remarkable, but somehow the homeopathic industry has not only survived into the 21st century, but prospered. In the UK alone more than £40 million is spent annually on homeopathic treatments, with £4 million of this being sucked from the National Health Service budget. Yet the basis for homeopathy defies the laws of physics, and high-quality clinical trials have never been able to demonstrate that it works beyond the placebo effect.

    The discipline is based on three "laws"; the law of similars, the law of infinitesimals and the law of succussion. The law of similars states that something which causes your symptoms will cure your symptoms, so that, for example, as caffeine keeps you awake, it can also be a cure for insomnia. Of course, thatmakes little sense, since drinking caffeine, well, keeps you awake.

    Next is the law of infinitesimals, which claims that diluting a substance makes it more potent. Homeopaths start by diluting one volume of their remedy - arsenic oxide, in the case of arsenicum album - in 99 volumes of distilled water or alcohol to create a "centesimal". They then dilute one volume of the centesimal in 99 volumes of water or alcohol, and so on, up to 30 times. Application of Avogadro's constant tells you that a dose of such a "30C" recipe is vanishingly unlikely to contain even a single molecule of the active ingredient.

    The third pillar of homeopathy is the law of succussion. This states - and I'm not making this up - that by tapping the liquid in a special way during the dilution process, a memory of the active ingredient is somehow imprinted on it. This explains how water is able to carry a memory of arsenic oxide, but apparently not of the contents of your local sewer network.

    The final preparation is generally dropped onto a sugar pill which the patient swallows.

    Homeopaths claim that the application of these three laws results in a remedy that, even though it contains not a single molecule of the original ingredient, somehow carries an "energy signature" of it that nobody can measure or detect.

    Unsurprisingly, when tested under rigorous scientific conditions, in randomised, controlled and double-blind trials, homeopathic remedies have consistently been shown to be no better than a placebo. Of course, the placebo effect is quite powerful, but it's a bit like justifying building a car without any wheels on the basis that you can still enjoy the comfy leather seats and play with the gear shift.

    Even some retailers who sell the treatments have admitted there is no evidence that they work. In November, Paul Bennett, the superintendent pharmacist at Boots, appeared before the UK parliament's Commons Science and Technology Committee's "evidence check" on homeopathy. He was questioned by Member of Parliament Phil Willis, who asked: "Do they work beyond the placebo effect?"

    "I have no evidence before me to suggest that they are efficacious," Bennett replied. He defended Boots's decision to sell homeopathic remedies on the grounds of consumer choice. "A large number of our consumers actually do believe they are efficacious, but they are licensed medicinal products and, therefore, we believe it is right to make them available," he said.

    You might agree. You might also argue that homeopathy is harmless: if people want to part with their money for sugar pills and nobody is breaking the law, why not let them? To some extent that's true - there's only so much damage you can do with sugar pills short of feeding them to a diabetic or dropping a large crate of them on someone's head.

    However, we believe there is a risk in perpetuating the notion that homeopathy is equivalent to modern medicine. People may delay seeking appropriate treatment for themselves or their children.

    We accept that we are unlikely to convince the true believers. Homeopathy has many ways to sidestep awkward questions, such as rejecting the validity of randomised controlled trials, or claiming that homeopathic remedies only work if you have symptoms of the malady they purport to cure. Our aim is to reach out to the general public with our simple message: "There is nothing in it".

    Boots and other retailers are perfectly entitled to continue selling homeopathic remedies if they so wish, and consumers are perfectly entitled to keep on buying them. But hopefully the 10:23 campaign will ram home our message to the public. In the 21st century, with decades of progress behind us, it is surreal that governments are prepared to spend millions of tax pounds on homeopathy. There really is nothing in it.

    Martin Robbins is a spokesperson for the 10:23 campaign (1023.org.uk). He writes at layscience.net

    29 January 2010 by Martin Robbins
    New Ssientist

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  1. [tanarilla.]
    Exactly. Loads of bullcrap. Who wants medication that only works if you believe in it? What is this, praying time on your death bed? Might as well not take anything and learn a mantra, the kind 'I will get better soon', oh, wait, I don't feel any different. Naw.
  2. Terrapinzflyer
    Thanks for posting this.

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    COMMENT The turtle has never been a proponet of Homeopathy, though virtually all the research he has seen has an economic interest one way or the other. He has been thinking about it more as of late though. His father, a chemist by training who then became a veterinarian, is a very skeptical and conservative man. However, he has been reporting a large upsurge in the use of homeopathy in veterinary practice, with vets reporting results comparable to or exceeding traditional medecines, with fewer side effects. Whether this says something about homeopathy, or the state of medecine the turtles not sure. Certainly there are a number of prescription drugs later shown to be no more effective then placebo, and there has been some recent research on the increase in the placebo effect Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why. (not the best/most scientific article on the subject but a good starting place.
  3. NeuroChi
    Please post back the results, this is an interesting way to test this theory indeed.
  4. Synchronium
    No one died!


    The mass homeopathic overdose, organised by the 10:23 campaign, went ahead on Saturday morning, and it appears everyone involved lived to tell the tale. Hundreds of sceptics gathered at various locations around the country, many of them outside branches of Boots, and at 10:23am downed entire packets of homeopathic pills. With the exception of an amusing remark reported in the Observer from Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, who quipped that one "swallower" hurt their thumb while opening the pill bottle, there were no reports of casualties.

    But while they may not have succeeded in taking their own lives (that was the aim, wasn't it? Or am I missing something?), the 10:23 campaigners have succeeded in raising awareness of the inefficacy of homeopathic medicine, and the double-standards of leading pharmacists who happily stock them while admitting that they don't work. The campaign has received a huge amount of media coverage – it's been in the broadsheets (Telegraph, Guardian, Times) the tabloids and even on BBC News. Martin Robbins, one of the campaign organisers, told me they're delighted with the response:

    "We're absolutely thrilled with the amount of media interest we managed to generate, not just across the British media but from places all around the world, as far afield as Brazil and New Zealand. The reaction has been great fun to watch too. In New Zealand for example homeopaths were forced to admit that their remedies have nothing in them, to the amusement of the local media. We really hope that this will encourage more people to ask awkward questions of their local Boots pharmacist!"

    And with the House of Commons select committee on science and technology due to recommend a reappraisal of £4 million per year spent on homoepathy by the NHS, this may not be the best time to be a homeopath. Indeed, the trigger for the 10:23 campaign was Boots' professional standards director admitting to the select committe that there is no evidence to support the efficacy of homeopathy.

    The photo [not shown, click link to see it and any other links/media] I've used here is from the 10:23 Campaign's Flickr gallery, which you can peruse for more pics. And if you want to hear more about Saturday's event, why not have a listen to the latest edition of the sceptical Pod Delusion podcast, which features interviews with Simon Singh, Evan Harris and Dave Gorman, who were all present at the London "overdose".

    From: http://blog.newhumanist.org.uk/2010/02/none-dead-in-mass-homeopathic-overdose.html
  5. slicedmind
    Stop press! Demonstration backfires on sceptics!
  6. NeuroChi
    How is that backfiring? I thought they were swallowing arsenicum album, which according to homeopathic doctors should contain the 'memory' of arsenic, a known toxin.

    They fell asleep 36 hours later? So? I fall asleep once a day, so do most human beings don't they? Were they trying to stay up?

    The campaign has a website, 1023.org.uk, and their video of the campaign shows one man holding up a bottle of what should contain some amount of belladonna (deadly nightshade). Pretty sure he wouldn't just fall asleep if he ate a bunch of that.
  7. b3ni
    If you read the top of the page it says 'UK spoof news and satire'. I think it was a joke.
  8. NeuroChi
    Ha! Good catch lol.

    Now the jokes on me... :laugh:
  9. Dickon
    Not that I'm defending homeopathy, but I don't see the point of this at all. Unless homeopaths were warning people to not take too many homeopathic pills because of side effects, I'd have thought homeopaths and non-homeopaths alike would agree that you couldn't OD on homeopathic "remedies".

    On a side note, isn't eating too much sugar not a good thing?

  10. chibi curmudgeon
    The tablets aren't pure sugar. Lactose (what's usually used in placebos) sticks together well enough in a capsule, but you can't compress a tablet without binders and other diluents like celluloses, calcium carbonate, etc. If someone who was lactose intolerant swallowed handfuls of mostly lactose tablets, that might be a problem.

    The point, however, is that if you can't overdose on something, clearly you can't "dose" on it, either. If no amount of a homeopathic preparation does anything...then it's useless. And no reputable pharmacist should be selling it.

    If a patient came to me wanting potassium chloride tablets to cure his lymphoma, even if he insisted on them and would pay me $1000 for them, it would be wrong for me to say "okay, here you go, $1000 please." I would be violating the oath I took to protect his health if I didn't refuse and say "that will not cure cancer."
  11. bubbly nubs
    SWIM agrees with Dickon, that it is pointless. So who cares if people are dumb enough to think this will work, more fool them. Let them buy them, and the bosses of whatever company sells these will get whats coming to them, in the form of karma....
  12. g666d
    Swim had some homeopathic dose codeine once for migranes... He thought he got high (he was only 13) from them but the joke was on all of us they were homeopathic migranes too, experienced for the purpose of missing school...
    Lately he has been purchasing homeopathic speed and it surely pisses him off, placebo hasn't got *that* good yet.
    Swim says ban the homeopaths, especially from illicit drug creation...
  13. Simple-Name
    Funny protest & pills haha

    never heard of this before but it is pretty ridiculous... Placebo can't be that powerful, and IMO it seems like a waste of time, energy, resources & money... I see no benefit to anybody or thing with the use of these... Just a pure waste...
  14. Space Numpty
    From Wiki

    Says it all really.

    Do a wiki search for "water memory" if you want to read more
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