I’m going to explain homeopathy in three sentences, but just know that I’m not making any of this up. Homeopathy is based on two principles. The first is that like cures like… so if you’re bitten by a poisonous snake, the antidote would clearly be “more venom!” But not just any amount of venom – the second principle is that you should dilute the antidote, because it’s more potent that way.
So basically homeopaths would take a drop of venom, put it in a jar of water, shake it, and then take a drop of that mixed substance and put that in a new glass of water. They continue diluting it like this 30, 40, 50 times or more, to the point that there’s no actual venom left in the water. That’s when you know the homeopathic remedy is just right.
Now that you know what we’re dealing with, let’s look at the most discouraging fact: Homeopathy has been around for 200 years, and is still going strong. Today, you can see the remedies in pill form sold as alternative medicine all over the world. Not-at-all-surprisingly, many homeopathy consumers report improvements in their health – at least those who didn’t die after taking it.
The fact of the matter is that when you go for homeopathy treatment, you don’t just go in and purchase the pills. In his 2008 book “Homeopathy in Perspective,” homeopath Anthony Campbell puts it best: “A homeopathic consultation affords the patient an opportunity to talk at length about her or his problems to an attentive and sympathetic listener in a structured environment, and this in itself is therapeutic.” So they’re basically really expensive psychoanalysts, minus the insight.
In fact, New Zealand doctors Shaun Holt and Andrew Gilbey were so fed up with the fact that about 1 in 8 NZ general practitioners refer patients to homeopaths, they administered a survey to expose the ignorance of homeopathy users. As reported by Pharmacy Today:
“More than 90% of people who use homoeopathic remedies think the products work according to a survey published in the latest edition of the New Zealand Medical Journal. But only 6% of those surveyed knew that homoeopathic remedies did not contain any active ingredient and most thought that homoeopathic remedies were either moderately or very concentrated.”
One of the biggest red flags goes up when the only people who use it know the least about it. Or to put it another way… the ones who don’t use it are the ones who know what it really is. Funny how that works.
Since February of last year, hundreds of people all over the world gathered in designated cities to do what uber-skeptic James Randi has been doing onstage for nearly 15 years – homeopathic suicide. Most of them swallowed what homeopaths consider to be lethal doses of pills, while others even tried the “underdose” approach, using homeopathy’s faulty logic. While most believers’ minds remained unchanged, the demonstrations certainly raised awareness and did some damage to the pseudoscience world. For example, they caused the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths spokeswoman Mary Glaisyer to publicly state that after the excessive dilutions “there’s not one molecule of the original substance remaining” in a homeopathic remedy.
Well the skeptics are back this year, and in greater numbers than ever. Via the official campaign website 1023.org.uk, they are gathering in 69 locations, within 28 countries for another overdose today. They are engaging in “placebocide” at 10:23 in their respective time-zones. While events like this are great to rally the skeptical troops, it still takes a lot of work to convince people who have become invested (financially and emotionally) in a bogus treatment to see the light.
Sure, it’s blissful to be ignorant as long as you’re getting better – “what do I care how it works? It works!” – but let’s be real. Patients who desire better health must realize that homeopathy testimonials come from positive interactions with homeopathy practitioners as well as the placebo effect. This means that we, as consumers, have the power to influence our health just by talking to someone who will listen, and believing in the potential of our own biological healing processes (i.e., the placebo effect). Patients who have serious medical conditions need to contact an expert. Not someone who offers a pill made from dilutions of light reflected off of the distant planet of Saturn. Seriously. Ignorance is very dangerous to those who really need help.