A Canadian pharmacist has slammed the sale of homeopathic remedies in community pharmacy, stating that homeopathy and science are mutually exclusive.

“Retail pharmacies have a sugar pill problem,” writes Scott Gavura, an Ontario pharmacist, on the Science-Based Pharmacy blog.

“To understand why homeopathy has no place in a pharmacy, it’s essential to understand how homeopathy differs from other forms of complementary and alternative medicine,” he writes.

Homeopathy is often misunderstood as a natural medicine similar to herbalism, he writes; this is encouraged by marketing of the products as a “gentle” or “natural” system of healing, and “putting cryptic terms like ‘30C’ beside long Latin names of what appears to be the active ingredients”.

“In reality, there is little likelihood that a homeopathic remedy contains even a single molecule of any listed ingredient. So while there may be hundreds of homeopathic remedies in a pharmacy, they are chemically indistinguishable, usually containing just sugar and water.

“The result is a growing assortment of placebos on store shelves, alongside medicines and even supplements that actually contain active ingredients.”

Gavura says that if homeopathy works in the way envisioned, the rest of medicine can not.

“Pharmacists are the health professionals with specialized training in pharmacology, and an education that concentrates on drug design, delivery and understanding how to use medicines effectively and safely,” he says.

“If any health professional should recognize the logical and scientific leaps that homeopathy necessitates, it should be pharmacists.

“Regrettably, there seems to be relatively few pharmacies that have made the deliberate decision not to sell homeopathic remedies.

“Selling placebos alongside medicine violates patient autonomy, reflecting a form of medical paternalism (or perhaps crass commercialism) that retail pharmacists need to eliminate if they want to be truly accepted as partners in the health care team.

“Homeopathy illustrates, with perhaps the most clarity, why selling unproven or ineffective treatments is incompatible with ethical practice.”

Gavura says the cessation of tobacco sales in most pharmacies worldwide provides a precedent for pharmacies voluntarily ceasing sales of legal products.

“Homeopathy isn’t tobacco, but its sale in pharmacies is raising the same questions about the profession’s intent.

“With pharmacists stating they want an expanded role in health care, will they confront the professional and ethical challenges that homeopathy presents?”