Homeopathy: It’s not the products, it’s the thinking


homoepathy: jars full of tincture and some orange flowers

According to Taree pharmacist Ian Carr, homeopathy will do no harm, but it won’t do any good either, and pharmacists need to remove ‘magic water’ from their shelves to avoid deluding customers about natural health.

Just over 200 years ago, an otherwise undistinguished German doctor, Samuel Christian Hahnemann, had a thought bubble. He invented homeopathy.

The idea was that tiny, tiny doses of herbs or poisons would cure the symptoms that they’d provoked. Between dilutions, magic would be applied to solutions by the process of “succussion”: jarring the substance by whacking it against a leather-bound book, for example. It won’t work otherwise.

When modern physics pointed out the product may contain zero active ingredients, inventive homeopaths rescued the remedy by postulating that water had a memory: presumably a very selective one.

Though the concept seems plain silly, I am delighted to report that ‘homeopathy works’. Our esteemed NHMRC came to the same conclusion in its recent thorough – and expensive – review of the pseudoscience.

There’s only one problem: it has not been shown to be any more effective than placebo, and that makes it a placebo.

Fellow pharmacists, it is time to rid our shelves of these shonky products.

Every time a consumer is able to pluck their chosen homeopathic drops from your shelf, you have given credence to quackery.

You have increased the possibility that your patient’s next call might be to a homeopath, rather than a GP. You have helped confuse the market about what “natural” medicine might be.

Perhaps your patient will decide that a homeopathic nosode will more safely protect the family from whooping cough than a real vaccine. Though no direct harm will come from imbibing from a magic bottle of pure water, there is the danger that proven treatment will be ignored, refused or delayed unnecessarily.

Poor thinking about health will lead to poor health decisions.

Many who choose a homeopathic remedy from the shelves may be totally unaware of its scientific implausibility. Your pharmacy should be ensuring patients are given clear and reasoned counselling, and in doing so, helping them avoid a lifetime of confused and deluded thinking about health.

Homeopathy is a prescientific pseudoscience which most closely resembles “sympathetic magic” like voodoo, love potions and ritual cannibalism.

Its proponents often explicitly reject science-based medicine. The internet is full of outrageous claims for it. I particularly like the website which provides an important caution: “Ebola. Due to the seriousness of the disease the treatments discussed would require an expert homeopath.” (My italics! – and best of luck with treating Ebola via homeopathy…)

Homeopathy has accumulated over 200-years’ worth of provings and anecdotes. This begins to seem all very positive, until it becomes clear that no one has noted the failures. No number of years of anecdotes equates to good evidence.

I suggest a visit to www.whatstheharm.net where you will find myriad examples of homeopathy and other uncritical thinking leading to harm and, sadly, deaths.

Fellow pharmacists, let us ditch the nonsense and thereby encourage rational, evidence-based thinking about the health and wellbeing of our clients.

 Ian Carr is from Saxby’s Pharmacy in Taree, NSW.

 

 

 

 

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27 Comments

  1. jamespannozzi
    27/05/2015

    I find it astonishing that the negative opinion of a mere pharmacist, important though their profession may be, is placed in large black bold letters at the start of an article about a system of medicine known as Homeopathy.

    The experiential evidence is overwhelming that Homeopathy is a powerful and safe system of medicine and this experience has been accumulated and recorded by medical professionals, some of them MDs of the highest skill, across a period of two centuries.

    The problem with Homeopathy is that the mechanism which produces its powerful curative effect is unknown as is the manner in which the properties of high dilutions could possibly encompass the physical basis of the effect. This, however, is a problem for scientists, and not pharmacists, to address and it is currently under research. There are hints that the research is slowly closing in on something. Experiments by M. Ennis some time ago (Inflammation Research Vol 53, P181) indicated that high dilutions in which all molecules of the stimulant were diluted away were still able to cause a biological effect, consistently. The anomaly remains without scientific explanation and Ennis has correctly called for international coordination in addressing it.

    No committees, no double blinded (or is it mentally blinded) tests are going to uncover the answer. The answer will be found by genuine scientists and, in the meantime, Homeopathy will continue to be used for its powerful curative effects.

    There will be, of course, untrained homeopaths, people practicing new age medicine, and people practicing what they think is homeopathy without actually taking the time, and trouble to learn the real thing. This is true in all medical fields, we have fake MDs killing people, including in the operating room, and MDs charging a fortune for cancer “cures” in Mexico.

    Allopathy, conventional medicine went to war against Homeopathy long ago. It was a war they almost won. The last Homeopathic medical school in the states was closed in the mid 1930’s and a recent one failed to be able to sustain itself.

    The war continues now by, in my opinion, medical fascists who seek to make Allopathy the one true “evidence” based (sic) medicine with forced mandatory administration completely destroying freedom of medical choice. They are aided by writers of varying degrees of gullibility and ineptitude.

    But in the meantime, Homeopathy use grows, each day more and more people discover it, use it, cure with it. And once that genie is out of the bottle, it’s magic cannot be stopped by denialism, innuendo, denunciation, or a committee.

    • Ian Carr
      27/05/2015

      The mere pharmacist responds:
      jamespannozzi, if Homeopathy has an “unknown” mechanism, and it has taken over 200 years for ONE obscure paper to give a “hint that the research is closing in on something” is there not the slightest chance that the whole thing is, as the placebo theory suggests, an illusion?
      Assuming that your knowledge of homeopathy is considered competent, would you please answer the following:
      1. Can Ebola – in theory at least – be treated with homeopathy?
      2. Can a nosode for whooping cough or diphtheria or tetanus give any protection, compared to a commercial vaccine?
      3. In 2007, I had a viral myocarditis and was close to heart failure. Could I have considered presenting to a Homeopathic Hospital?
      Concise answers please, not waffle.

      • jamespannozzi
        27/05/2015

        Good questions. I have spent 8 years researching and trying to find answers but must mention that I am not a Homeopath and only focus on the historical presentation of the cases. The answers then, are merely my opinion.

        Your error: You must distinguish between the science, known or unknown and yet to be discovered about how Homeopathy MIGHT work, and if it works.

        The first thing I consider in reading over the cases presented by the Homeopaths is if the supposed cure might have been placebo effect. In fact, in some cases, I believe that is exactly it. However in others, my own opinion is that it could not possibly have been placebo effect.

        The next thing to consider. Would the patient have improved or been cured by doing nothing. Again, in some cases, but not all, I think that is exactly it.

        What remains are a class of cases in which I do not think there is any other possible explanation other than some sort of curative effect being activated, if that is the right word, by the Homeopathic drug.

        Now, the answers to your questions:
        1. Ebola. In theory yes, it can be treated by Homeopathy. Homeopathy bases its curative protocols on symptom complexes supposedly similar to patterns observed in testing their drugs on healthy volunteers (double blinded of course). So the exact nature or cause of the infectious disease need not be known. Hence Homeopaths treated cholera, or seem to have treated it, apparently successfully on numerous occasions without knowing the exact cause of the disease.
        2. Nosodes. I have avoided researching this specialized area and cannot answer. Regarding Homeopathy as a substitute for vaccines I believe it is possible but unproven. See, for example, “Homeopathy in Epidemic Diseases” by Dr. D. Shepherd, particularly the chapter on Whooping Cough for her explicit homeopathic treatment both after the outbreaks and as a preventative, in London during the war years. Whooping Cough is a good example because, as is well known, the current vaccine has shortcomings directly leading to several outbreaks in recent years, even among those vaccinated.
        3. Viral Myocarditis – I don’t know if the Homeopathic hospitals of today could handle it but the ones pre 1930 or so would have treated it, again, in my opinion, by symptom complex associations supposedly leading to a correct Homeopathic drug, even without knowing the cause of the infection. Other heart diseases are routinely treated by practitioners.
        Were the MDs in your case able to identify a cause ? Have you traveled in South America before the infection ?
        Have they definitively treated it or are you subject to…. recurrence ? Did they do a biopsy? It would seem that the irregular progression of this disease would make it ideal for Homeopathy. Were you satisfied with the Allopathic treatment you received ?

        None of these considerations falls within the purview of the mere pharmacist, however.

        Hope that was concise enough for you and not waffle !

        • pharm
          27/05/2015

          My mistake, it was you, not Ian who mentioned cholera as an example. His point still stands!

          • jamespannozzi
            27/05/2015

            And my response still stands !

        • Jarrod McMaugh
          16/07/2015

          All of these things fall within the purview of a “mere” pharmacist. If you think a pharmacist has no reason to be involved in any of these areas, then you should stop commenting on articles related to pharmacists.

          You should note that this article was about pharmacists ceasing to sell homeopathy. It doesn’t mean that people who wish to use homeopathy wouldn’t still be able to access it from people who are willing to sell it.

          Of interest, if you have done 8 years of research into homeopathy – why would it even be considered OK for pharmacies to sell homeopathic products? Homeopathy claims to be a method of holistic medicine – which means that a homeopathic remedy cannot be considered without consideration of all aspects of a patient – ready prepared products (as most homeopathic remedies found in Australia are) don’t fit this criteria.

          • 16/07/2015

            On the contrary, I think a mere pharmacist is unqualified to be deciding what should or should not be on the shelves. Totally unqualified.

            You tell me that the article is about pharmacists ceasing to sell homeopathy.

            Yet I sense a gigantic contradiction here.

            ARE ANY PHARMACISTS STOPPING THE SALE OF CONVENTIONAL DRUGS BECAUSE OF BAD SIDE EFFECTS ? OR BECAUSE THEY HAVE BEEN DETERMINED TO BE INEFFECTIVE, SUCH AS PROZAC, OR DANGEROUS ?

            No pharmacist that I know would DARE do such a thing…maybe there are some, if so good.

            You also tell me that this has no effect on people wanting homeopathic products. But by not stocking them, are not the pharmacists doing a kind of interdiction, impinging on the freedom of medical choice of the people ?

            My desire is that the pharmacists not allow themselves to be turned into pawns, unwitting dupes, of a dangerous trend which is political but which has a medical side to it. This trend, an extension of the same corporatist influence which is crushing Greece, and infesting the government of all the major industrialized countries, finds alternative medicine and in particular, homeopathy, anathema to their corporatist machine medicine in which one pill, one surgery, one vaccination…fits all.

            They don’t and can’t.

            That is the danger to our most valued and well trained pharmacists who are an essential in any form of modern medicine, conventional or alternative.

          • Jarrod McMaugh
            16/07/2015

            Listen buddy, you’re clearly very passionate about … something. It’s not really clear what you are passionate about, but something’s certainly stirred up your interest in the area.

            Firstly, if you knew anything about the Australian market, you would know that a pharmacy not stocking a product does not make this product unavailable.

            Secondly, you did not address my point about homeopathy claiming to be a holistic treatment, therefore the only correct method to access homeopathy would be to visit a homeopath and have the remedy created after careful and holistic assessment of the patient – in this instance, the availability of homeopathic products pre-concocted and available in the pharmacy is anathema to the whole philosophy of the system.

            Thirdly, you clearly do not understand what a pharmacist does if you think they have no role in deciding what is, or is not, available to supply in the pharmacy. In fact, pharmacists have to obligation to NOT supply something that is available in the pharmacy, if their clinical skill determines that this is not the best option for the patient – even if this means refusing to supply something that a doctor has prescribed.

            Fourthly, there are many products that have been removed from sale in pharmacy – just because you are unfamiliar with them, does not mean that this does not occur.

            Pharmacists aren’t pawns. There is a lot of training involved in becoming a pharmacist, and we don’t take the role lightly. Pharmacists certainly aren’t going to be swayed in their practice by someone who has no stake in the health industry, who comments with wildly rambling tirades that venture into the absurdly irrelevant (I mean, how exactly is Greece’s financial situation related to pharmacies in Australia selling homeopathic products?), and who doesn’t actually understand very much on the subject of this article other than what they purport to have researched in 8 years.

            It is entertaining reading your posts though. Please continue to reply.

          • 16/07/2015

            “In fact, pharmacists have to obligation to NOT supply something that is available in the pharmacy, if their clinical skill determines that this is not the best option for the patient – even if this means refusing to supply something that a doctor has prescribed.”

            This is news to me, though all I have to go on, is American pharmacists. Perhaps the role is expanded there, if so good.

            On homeopathy, I can’t continue any more because these little boxes don’t begin to give me enough space to do so and it would require a book. I have encountered description of homeopaths or what is claimed to be homeopathy to which I would not dare entrust my cat for treatment, let alone a human being, and I have encountered geniuses who have understood the fundamental inductivism and experiential basis of homeopathy and are scientifically minded in every sense of the word.

            Do not confuse “if” it works with “how” it might work.

            Leave the latter to the scientists.

            And do not a priori assume placebo. In some cases yes, in many, no.

            I suggest you try reading some of Dr. Dorothy Shepherd’s books, she ran a clinic using mostly Homeopathy in London during the blitz and describes her experiences. She retained her skepticism on the higher dilution homeopathics until she proved, by use and to her own satisfaction, that they worked, often to her own astonishment.

            Also, on the political and propaganda side, look up “Beware Scientism’s Onward March” by chemist and homeopath Lionel Milgrom. His description of the philosophical and political underpinnings of the anti-homeopathy movement are spot on.

            Reading Milgrom’s article will ensure that you do not become an unwilling dupe of forces which, ultimately, probably want to automate and eliminate your entire profession.

            That’s all I can say now, thanks for the interesting, and informative reply !

  2. Laurie J. Willberg
    27/05/2015

    Homeopathy detractors: It’s not just their lack of knowledge it’s their simple-minded attitude. Fortunately not all pharmacists are this ignorant.

    • Ian Carr
      27/05/2015

      Homeopathy supporters. Ad Hominem arguers all…

  3. Nicholas Logan
    27/05/2015

    Homeopathy has as much validation as popcorn therapy (Things get better with popcorn). I was proud at a staff meeting a few years back when the pharmacists elected to remove all the homeopathic products that had snuck onto our shelves. Consumers have the right to purchase them but as health professionals our staff were embarrassed to offer them and felt obliged to warn every customer that they could in no way be considered clinically effective. There was corresponding relief that consumers would not be deceived into believing that we supported the products claims.

    • jamespannozzi
      27/05/2015

      Then you must have removed aspirin from your shelves prior to the discovery of its mechanism leading to a Nobel prize.

      No ? Then perhaps you need to re-examine your conceptions as Aspirin is now known for its involvement, under certain conditions, in Reyes Syndrome. In fact, perhaps it would be wiser to focus on removing those pharmaceuticals whose side effects cans sometimes be worse than the illness for which they are supposed to treat.

      Then there would be corresponding relief from consumers for different reasons.

      • wat
        27/05/2015

        Under certain conditions, taking homeopathic medication can lead to water intoxication which could subsequently lead to cerebral oedema, renal failure, seizures and many other things.

        Some homeopathic therapies also contain alcohol which we all know do cause, under certain conditions, liver cirrhosis and Korsakoff’s psychosis and definitely shouldn’t be supplied to minors.

        • jamespannozzi
          27/05/2015

          You’ve mistaken delusion for dilution, a problem characteristic of pseudo-skeptics.

      • Nicholas Logan
        03/06/2015

        Correct James. I would have removed aspirin if it was not evidence based. Reyes Syndrome has not been a threat for 40 years because of age restrictions. You need to get an update from your local pharmacy. #askyourpharmacist

  4. ReallyGoodMedicine
    27/05/2015

    Homeopathy is the second most used system of medicine in the world today with more than 600 million users. It is used in 80 countries, and its use is growing at the rate of 25% every year in countries around the world because it’s safe, effective, often curative when conventional treatments fail, and inexpensive. Hundreds of documented case records of cures of chronic diseases can be seen by googling “homeopathy cured cases.”

    The WHO recognized France as the country with the very best health care. All French pharmacists are required to train in homeopathy. It is taught in 21 of France’s 24 schools of pharmacy. 20,000 French pharmacies sell homeopathic medicines. 95% of French GP’s prescribe homeopathy.

    Pharmacists in the U.S. are learning more about homeopathy so that they can better assist their customers.

    45% of British doctors refer their patients to homeopaths. 50% of German OB-GYN doctors work with CAM practitioners including homeopaths. 25% of German family doctors use homeopathy.

    Compare all of this to one pharmacist who thinks homeopathy doesn’t work. Has he used it himself, studied it or consulted with homeopaths and their patients? Clearly he has not.

    • Ian Carr
      27/05/2015

      I am flattered that you consider me the only person on the planet not convinced by homeopathy. Perhaps I should take up your advice, spend five or ten years at my Homeopathy studies, so I will be fully qualified to say “I was correct in the first place — probably the placebo effect.” (See the life and work of Prof. Edzard Ernst.)
      Your argument above is a textbook rendering of the Argument from Popularity, and as such does not argue to the efficacy or otherwise of homeopathy. And I’m pretty sure your stats are outdated or overly optimistic.

      • ReallyGoodMedicine
        28/05/2015

        You may not like the facts, but that is exactly what they are — the facts. Another fact is that despite the opinions of people who don’t know or use homeopathy those who do continue to use it, even when they can afford any system of medicine they wish. They tell their friends, families and neighbors about it who try it for themselves. Those people are usually just as impressed with the results they get and tell their friends, families and neighbors………..

        That’s how homeopathy has grown to be the second most used medicine in the world today and why it continues to grow in use.

      • JimT
        13/01/2016

        ….there is a lot to be said about the “placebo effect”………if it works, it works 🙂

      • luis trapaga
        08/03/2016

        Dear Ian,
        I’m glad that your article has inspired discussion of homeopathy. There are several points that I wish to raise.
        1. Those against homeopathy make the constant error of using the ‘water has a memory’ idea to ridicule this therapy. Actually homeopathic remedies are not, and never have been, made with water as the solvent and carrier. They are made in alcohol or lactose.
        2. The report by the NHMRC did not involve anyone on their panel with any experience or knowledge of homeopathy. They also ignored current meta analyses that were not favourable to the outcome of their study.
        3. The concept of hormesis actually predicts that, at least in the lower dilutions used in preparing homeopathic products, homeopathy should have an action 30-60% greater than placebo. I refer you to the work of toxicologists Edward Calabrese and Linda Baldwin, and their research paper “Hormesis: The Dose Response Revolution” (Annu. Rev. Pharmacol. Toxicol. 2003. 43:175–97). I will add that these researchers are not homeopathic practitioners, nor mention homeopathy in any way.

    • Rob
      28/05/2015

      45% of British doctors refer patients to homeopaths? Absolute rubbish. “The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advises the NHS on proper use of treatments. NICE currently does not recommend that homeopathy should be used in the treatment of any health condition.”

      When you have to lie, your argument disappears completely. Not that a commonly-held belief is necessarily right. In very basic terms, 84% of Irish people are Catholic. 80% of Indians are Hindu. Almost every Saudi is Muslim. Chances are they’re all wrong.

    • Paul Mathews
      01/06/2015

      RGM,

      You have been asked time and time again to substantiate this claim that so many homeopaths spout:

      “Homeopathy is the second most used system of medicine in the world today”

      The response I usually get (if any) is that it was a WHO study.

      Yet it does not appear on any WHO reports or releases.

      Are you going to come clean over your nonsense?
      Does you anus ever get tired from having statistics pulled from it.
      Or do all homeopaths rely on Chinese whispers as evidence.?

  5. Travizm
    13/01/2016

    What is the problem with homeopathy if we consider it as a placebo therapy?

    Imagine a situation of a patient with pain and anxiety who obtains benefit from a placebo and, as a result, is able to lessen their usage of opioids and benzodiazepines.

    Can anyone say with full confidence that they never see clinical scenarios in their practice that would be BETTER treated by placebo?

    Furthermore, I think advocating for homeopathy where is is actually beneficial as a placebo may help add credibility when we denounce its use in areas in which a placebo may do harm e.g. vaccination.

    • JimT
      13/01/2016

      I have had GP’s suggest an appropiate placebo….”The Sleeping Tablet” the little white ones(Vit B12). The patient said it was the best sleeping tablet she ever tried, and didn’t feel dopey in the morning…..an excellent outcome!!

      • Travizm
        13/01/2016

        Great example!

        I have also seen physicians prescribing homeopathy where they know that their patient believes in that paradigm and will benefit from the placebo qualities. Rescue remedy is a classic.

  6. aaabbbccc
    15/01/2016

    The pros and cons will never end in this debate Every decade
    or more, this debate gets dragged out of the medicine cabinet by each new
    generation of young medicos and allied professionals. All of whom think they
    “invented the wheel”. They finish the pharmacy course and then they think they
    have the answers to everything, all knowing, all seeing. They stand ready to
    save the world “from the monstrous scourge of homeopathy”.

    Homeopathy has plodded on for centuries in the background,
    operating “ under the radar”. In most cases, it is a rather innocuous form of
    medicine. Its part in the plural nature
    of medicine consisting of the conventional and unconventional was always there.

    It would have probably remained such except for the fact
    that certain homeopaths started to make outlandish claims. These assertions,
    such as cures for diseases and infections, were dangerous. This is because it
    prevented patients, in many cases, from seeking proven, conventional treatments
    in the early stages of their complaints. In this part of the treatment course,
    the complaint could be managed much better than later stage presentations of
    the complaint.

    Such claims by certain homeopaths have, in part, led to
    certain areas of the country having very low vaccination rates. An example
    would be the trendy, “with-it”, Sunshine Coast hinterland, where entire
    families, both adults and children, are stricken with whooping cough.

    In removing homeopathy from the shelves, you are actually
    forcing the patient into the position of “non-disclosure” of their full range
    of medications and supplements. The patient originally took up the alternate
    and complementary medicines because conventional medicines did not provide the
    desired results.

    If the patient is getting a desired result without side
    effects from homeopathy, it is an arrogant position to expect that the patient
    will “ lay down arms and surrender” to your decision. It would be a decision,
    which may not provide as good a result as before, and may incur side effects. I
    don’t think the old pensioner who has been getting good results from homeopathy,
    say Rescue remedy, is going to take much notice of the negative remarks of some
    young, arrogant, “still wet behind the ears” pharmacist. Despite what you read
    in the journals, most doctors take the pharmacists advice “with a grain of salt”.
    The doctors already have their own preformed opinions on most matters. The
    general public will use whatever works for them. They will do what ever the
    paid television celebrity endorses, despite the fact that this person may never
    have used the product.

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