The Cognitive Dissonance of Homeopathy

Pharmacy Photo

A pharmacist’s education is rooted in the study of the natural sciences. It’s training that lends itself to sorting out novel, science-based therapies from implausible pseudoscience.  To the the chagrin of the science-based pharmacist, homeopathic products are widely available at pharmacies in Canada and around the world. Many pharmacists endorse homeopathy and see it as complementary to conventional (real) medicines.  Others argue that they’re simply responding to consumer demand.  Is homeopathy based on sound science, and should homeopathic products be sold in pharmacies?

Background

Homeopathy was invented in the early 1800s by a German physician, Samuel Hahnemann. At that time, illness was believed to be the result of imbalances in the four bodily “humors”, namely blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. Typical medical treatments were crude and dangerous, and included bloodletting, blistering, laxatives and emetics, intended to bring balance to the humors. Hahnemann invented an alternative treatment system that he believed was less toxic and more effective at balancing the humors.

There are three key principles for homeopathy, and they’re fundamentally different from our current, science-based understanding of drugs and diseases. Continue reading

What is Science-Based Pharmacy?

To answer this, let’s consider three separate questions.

  1. What is a pharmacist?
  2. What is modern pharmacy practice?
  3. What do you mean, science-based pharmacy?

Let’s start with the term, pharmacist.  Among the health professionals, only the pharmacist has medications at the core of his training. Training is university level, and after four to six years of training, graduates emerge with Bachelor or Doctorate degrees. The pharmacy curriculum is rigorous and includes anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, and therapeutics.  New pharmacists are well trained to prevent, identify, and resolve drug-related problems.

At its heart, modern pharmacy practice is now squarely at the intersection of modern medicine and Main Street. No other health professional is as readily available as a pharmacist. As more and more formerly fatal diseases are fast becoming chronic illnesses due to remarkably innovative new medications (e.g., HIV and cancer therapies), the pharmacist’s role is changing from being simply the dispenser of medicines to a health professional well positioned to help people access and use medications more effectively and rationally. An in some areas, pharmacists are earning limited prescribing privileges.

Pharmacists can work in a variety of settings – not all of them pharmacies: Hospitals, long-term care, insurance companies and government are areas you’ll find pharmacists working. But the vast majority of pharmacists (at least in North America) work in the the “community” or retail pharmacy setting – the local drug store. So for most pharmacists, practicing their profession means being both an entrepreneur as well as a health professional.

Retail pharmacies can vary widely, from a pharmacy counter with almost no “front shop”, to mega-boxes where the pharmacist is hidden at the back behind the cosmetics, milk, and sadly, often lots and lots of  unproven, pseudoscientific, questionable products – quackery. Continue reading