One of the terms that you’ll see used to describe health quackery, scams and pseudoscience is “snake oil”. Snake oil was a real product, sold in the early 19th century as a cure-all elixer in the “patent medicine” era. Popularized in movies, the snake-oil salesman would pull into town, and start the hard sell for his product that was promised to CURE everything from aches and pains to sore throats and dislocations. The original products apparently did contain snake, but soon other products appeared on the market that didn’t even contain any snake – they were an assortment of ingredients concocted to smell medicinal and seem medicinal, but had no therapeutic effects. These small-town sideshows would hype the products and try to sell as much as possible. In 1905 an article in Colliers exposed the patent medicine industry for what it was – health fraud. The Pure Food and Drugs Act (in the USA) followed, and eventually, modern drug regulations emerged as we know them today.
Case closed? Not quite. As a consequence of regulators worldwide implementing lower regulatory standards for supplements and natural health products, snake oil is back on the shelves. I highlighted this recently when I somewhat facetiously asked Is there anything the Natural Health Products Directorate Won’t Approve? After all, when sugar pills are approved as an insect repellant, how much more ludicrous can you get? But I was proved wrong, when Dianne Sousa pointed out that Health Canada has also approved homeopathic rabbit anus as “safe and effective”. Continue reading