Dilutions of Grandeur: It’s World Homeopathy Awareness Week

Shelf sign: Homeopathy is nonreturnable

Homeopathy is nonreturnable

April 10-16 is World Homeopathy Awareness Week, dedicated by homeopaths to promote an awareness and understanding of homeopathy. I think that’s an excellent idea. Homeopathy is an elaborate placebo system of sugar pills. It doesn’t work. It cannot work.  If it did, physics, biochemistry and pharmacology as pharmacists know it would be false. Of all alternative medicine, homeopathy is the most implausible of them all.  Based on the absurd notion of “like cures like” (which is sympathetic magic, not science), proponents of homeopathy believe that any substance can be an effective remedy if it’s diluted enough: raccoon fur, the sunlight reflecting off Saturn, even pieces of the Berlin Wall are all part of the homeopathic pharmacopeia.  And when I say dilute, I mean dilute. The 30C “potency” is common – it’s a ratio of 10-60.  You would have to give two billion doses per second, to six billion people, for 4 billion years, to deliver a single molecule of the original material. So remedies are effectively and mathematically inert – they are pure placebo. Not surprisingly, there is no persuasive medical evidence that these products have therapeutic effects.

Homeopathy could be written off as a harmless nostrum if it caused no harm. But that’s not the case. Homeopathy can delay patients from seeking science-based treatments. Consumers buy products thinking they are effective, when they have no active ingredients. When they’re on pharmacy shelves, it’s unfair and unethical to expect patients to be able to able to distinguish real drugs from placebos.  A paper from Michael Baum and Edzard Ernst, writing in the American Journal of Medicine in 2009 made this statement about homeopathy:

It is considered unethical for modern medical practitioners to sink to this kind of deception that denies the patient his or her autonomy. Secondly, by opening the door to irrational medicine alongside evidence-based medicine, we are poisoning the minds of the public. Finally, if we don’t put a brake on the increasing self-confidence of the homeopathic establishment, they will cease to limit their attention to self-limiting or nonspecific maladies.

Baum and Ernst were correct in their evaluation, as you see in this roundup of homeopathic issues from around the world: Continue reading

Win $1 million if you can prove homeopathy works

A possible pharmacy homeopathy label suggested by Le Canard Noir

This weekend has seen the “10-23 challenge” occur, where science advocates worldwide are “overdosing” on homeopathic products, to demonstrate that they contain no active ingredients and have no therapeutic effects. This builds on last year’s event in the UK and Australia, which was a success: absolutely nothing happened to any participant. This year, overdoses have taken place across Canada and around the world. As part of the challenge, this weekend James Randi reiterated a promise to pay $1 million to anyone that can prove homeopathy works. Here’s some excerpts from that announcement, where he points to pharmacies as being part of the problem: Continue reading

What’s with the new cough and cold products?

One of my earliest lessons as a pharmacist working in the “real world” was that customers didn’t always act the way I expected. Parents of sick children frequently fell into this category — and the typical vignette went like this for me:

  1. Parent has determined that their child is sick, and needs some sort of over-the-counter medicine.
  2. Parent asks pharmacist for advice selecting a product from the dozens on the shelves.
  3. Pharmacist uses the opportunity to provide science-based advice, and assures parent that no drug therapy is necessary.
  4. Parent directly questions the validity of this advice, and may ask about the merits of a specific product they have already identified.
  5. Pharmacist explains efficacy and risk of the product, and provides general non-drug symptom management suggestions.
  6. Parent thanks pharmacist, selects product despite advice, and walks to the front of the store to pay.

In many ways, a pharmacy purchase mirrors the patient-physician interaction that ends with a prescription being written — it’s what feels like the logical end to the consultation, and without it, feels incomplete. It’s something that I’m observing more and more frequently when advising parents about cough and cold products for children.

Continue reading

World Homeopathy Awareness Week is Coming

It’s time for fantasy unlike anything you’ve seen seen since your last trip to Disney. That’s right, it’s time to discuss the most implausible of alternative health treatments, homeopathy.

World Homeopathy Awareness Week (WHAW), April 10-16, is apparently designed to introduce homeopathy to new, gullible, audiences. This year’s theme is “Homeopathy and Mental Well-being: Body and Mind in Balance”. You can check out the list of activities across Canada including homeopaths that advocate water homeopathy for depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and more.

If you’ve been following Science-Based Pharmacy for some time, you probably realize we’re not impressed with homeopathy, or with pharmacists that sell it. For WHAW, we’re going to look at homeopathy from a few different perspectives:  The responsibility of pharmacists, the responsibility of regulators, and the ethical perspective, where SBP will have a guest post from an ethicist. We’ll also look at the science behind a pharmacy product that you might not realize is homeopathy.  In addition to all the activity here, look for a full week of homeopathy-related posts from the team of bloggers over at Skeptic North.

It hasn’t been a good year for homeopaths, with the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee determining homeopathy to be a “placebo”; the 10-23 protesters undertaking a mass overdose of homeopathy (where precisely nothing happened); and New Zealand homeopaths admitting that their products contain no material substances.

In preparation for WHAW, take a look at some of the videos that Science-Based Pharmacy has featured over the past year. (Email viewers will need to visit the website to see the links).

Mitchell and Webb take a look at a homeopathic hospital:

And this video, which puports to explain the mechanism of homeopathy, is a must-see.  And no, it’s not a parody.

British MPs Tell Gov’t: Stop Funding Homeopathy

In a clear statement on the absurdity of public funding and regulation of homeopathy, British MPs instructed government to stop paying for homeopathy, shut down homeopathic hospitals, cease all homeopathy clinical trials, and to crack down on homeopathic efficacy claims.

Committee chairman Phil Willis MP said; “We were seeking to determine whether the Government’s policies on homeopathy are evidence based on current evidence. They are not.”

Homeopathy doesn’t work. It can’t work. If it did, physics, biochemistry and pharmacology as pharmacists know it would be false. Yet this elaborate placebo system persists, supported in part by the pharmacy profession, which seems comfortable selling products with no active ingredients and no evidence of efficacy.

I have blogged previously about the British inquiry into homeopathy, the public relations disaster for Boots the Chemist (selling their own store brand of homeopathy), and the effectiveness of the “10-23” protesters, who staged a mass homeopathic overdose, where, not surprisingly, nothing untoward happened to anyone.

The final report from the British inquiry has been released. It scrutinized government policies on homeopathy, and gives direction to the National Health Service.  But the recommendations apply to any country (like Canada) that legitimizes homeopathy. Continue reading

Pharmacies Targeted in Mass Homeopathy Overdose

Hundreds of protesters will gather outside Boots pharmacies on January 30 to swallow entire bottles of  homeopathic remedies and embarrass a profession that sells them in the absence of any evidence of efficacy.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the 10:23 protest which was gathering momentum in the United Kingdom. Recall that in late 2009, a senior executive from Alliance Boots, a UK pharmacy chain, admitted that there is no clinical evidence to support homeopathic products, yet Boots sells these products strictly because of consumer demand.

Homeopathy is an elaborate placebo system of “remedies” with no active ingredients.  Based on the absurd notion of “like cures like”, proponents of homeopathy believe that any substance can be an effective remedy if it’s diluted enough: raccoon fur, the sunlight reflecting off Saturn, even pieces of the Berlin Wall are all part of the homeopathic pharmacopeia.  And when I say dilute, I mean dilute. The 30C “potency” is common – it’s a ratio of 10-60.  You would have to give two billion doses per second, to six billion people, for 4 billion years, to deliver a single molecule of the original material. That’s dilute. Continue reading

New UK Campaign: “Homeopathy: There’s nothing in it”

A few weeks ago I blogged about some very public criticism of pharmacy practice in the United Kingdom. I noted that pharmacies were being publicly criticized for selling homeopathy, and this was causing a public relations disaster for Boots, one of the UK’s leading pharmacy chains, and a proud vendor of homeopathy.  The mockery of Boots has continued. And there’s now a new public campaign to raise awareness of the fact that homeopathy is an elaborate placebo system, and has no place in pharmacies.

Cleverly (but somewhat confusingly) called “10:23”  (Remember what that number means?) the campaign has the following goals:

The 10:23 campaign aims to raise awareness of the reality of homeopathy – how it can be proven not to work, how it can be shown to be impossible, and why it’s important to give patients the right information to allow them to make an informed decision on their healthcare.

The campaign starts in a few weeks – and they’ve already posted their open letter to Boots – here’s an excerpt:

We call upon Boots to withdraw all homeopathic products from your shelves. You should not be involved in the sale of ineffective products, because your customers trust you to do what is right for their health. Surely you agree that your commitment to excellent patient care is better served by supplying only those products whose claims can be substantiated by rigorous scientific research? Or do you really believe that Boots should be in the business of selling placebos to the sick and the injured?

The support lent by Boots to this quack therapy contributes directly to its acceptance as a valid medical treatment by the British public, acceptance it does not warrant and support it does not deserve. Please do the right thing, and remove this bogus therapy from your shelves.

If you’re interested in the campaign, you can sign up and find out more.  And follow the chatter on Twitter.  I suspect the PR problems for homeopathy-selling pharmacies may be just beginning.