The Truth Behind Homeopathy

Turns out it’s all a scam.

Who knew.

(via CoolHardLogic — Thanks to Ed for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Patrick/100000027906887 Adam Patrick

    I remember watching a video a few months ago where a woman took an entire bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills to show that it’s a hoax.

    • C Peterson

      Well, she lived, so it must have worked!

      (Seriously, you have to be careful with demonstrations like this. Some homeopathic preparations actually do have significant concentrations of active chemicals in them, and can be quite toxic under some circumstances.)

      • viaten

        That’s a bit scary. Doesn’t the FDA or someone have to review or test homeopathic preparations with active ingredients then? Do they have to have a warning saying “… but does contain measurable active ingredients.” What’s to stop them from making “homeopathic” aspirin, pain relievers, allergy medications, etc, to try to make people think the other “real” homeopathic preparations work?

        • C Peterson

          Nope, they’re largely free of regulation, just like the people who sell supplements and “natural” remedies.

          I discovered that not all homeopathic products are harmless when a tube of arnica cream appeared in the bathroom. It was labeled “Natural Homeopathic”. But the label says it is “1X 8%”. Well, “1X” technically means a 1:10 dilution, so I guess they rounded 8% to that. In any case, arnica is a potent biological agent and has high toxicity, so you definitely would want to be careful using this topical product! It might also be expected to have positive medicinal properties (although sold as it is, there is little or no burden on the manufacturer to demonstrate that).

          The take home lesson here: just because it’s labeled “homeopathic” you can’t assume it’s only water.

          • http://twitter.com/ChrisWilki Chris Wilkinson

            You Skeptos are so funny, yet you take yourselves so seriously! What day is your Holy Day, you know, when you all sit in groups, play dungeons and dragons, get pissed, kiss pictures of Ernst and Randi and check on your shares in Big Pharma?

            • RobMcCune

              Well people selling water and sugar pills based on a theory of medicine that poison cures disease isn’t a matter people should take lightly.

            • C Peterson

              I assume from your comment that you consider skeptics to be damaged in some way, and you don’t consider yourself one.

              Why anybody would brag about being stupid is beyond me, but there are all kinds of strange folks out there.

            • JohnnieCanuck

              Tuesday. Come on along to a meeting and learn something.

              Tell me, how do ‘Big Alternate Medicine’ sales compare to ‘Big Pharma’? Now tell me how they compare in research expenditures to prove efficacy and evaluate side effects.

              If a ‘natural remedy’ is effective, then it is a medicine. One without dosage control of the active ingredient(s), no list of contra-indications and no evaluation or control of contaminating compounds.

              Otherwise, it is just a placebo at best. Expensive, too.

            • Mario Strada

              Funny, I was under the impression that health and fake cures were a pretty serious matter. You disagree?

              Why don’t you enlighten us with your vast knowledge of science then? I’ll bet it’s going to be a lot more entertaining of a D&D session. (BTW, many atheists and skeptics play D&D? I was not aware. I never could stand the game and its players.)

          • Mario Strada

            Incidentally, Arnica montana is possible the only Homeopathic product that may have some real life effect. I once did an experiment with two small cuts (that I got by stupidly trying to scale a fence) and on one I put Arnica and nothing on the other. They were very similar and I had one on each arm. No doubt, the one where I put arnica healed better and faster, but on the other hand, I haven’t tried putting Vaseline or other cremes on a third cut to see if just the presence of another agent sped up the healing process or if it was the arnica itself.

            However, this is an “ointment anyway. It’s got little to do with the sugar pills more frequently found in these type of medicines.

            I doubt anyone would want to spread arnica all over their body to prove a point anyway. Or worse ingest it. You wouldn’t do that with any ointments.

            • anon

              Arnica is not homeopathic, it’s herbal. You could make a homeopathic preparation from it by diluting a solution so much that no trace of arnica remained. Just like you could make homeopathic preparations of alcohol or tylenol or nicotine, and they’d be water.

              Homeopathic ointments are particularly deceiving, because to feel right an ointment has to have lots of ingredients that help skin irritation.

          • viaten

            I was afraid of that. I’d like to see a law that says you can’t call it homeopathic unless it consists of only certain inactive ingredients (water, sugar, etc) and undetectable amounts of the “active” ingredients.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I knew.

  • ortcutt

    Essential That Mitchell and Webb Look.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMGIbOGu8q0

    • Tracker

      Has anyone watch the Pro Homeopathic videos that come up as options after Testy video? Creepy!! Wrong!!

  • Drew M.

    This one is good. I like his style.

  • daryl carpenter

    Heard the one about a man who died of a homeopathic overdose?

    He forgot to take his medication.

    Old ones are the best.

  • Mario Strada

    I had the misfortune of having to use homeopathic medicine for the first 18 years of my life and I can absolutely confirm that not only they are crap (I often intentionally failed to take it but got better just as fast as my brother and sister), useless, since they were prescribed only in the mildest of illnesses (When my mother got amoeba istolitica, a rare infection that left her temporarily paralyzed, you better believe it she used modern medicine or I’d be an orphan lickety split).

    But I can also confirm that it was anything but cheap. Those that talk about “Big pharma” are obviously talking out of their ass, because while a regular doctor visit would cost you a couple of hundreds, mostly paid by insurance, an homeopath or other juju doctor often charge closer to $400 and then make you buy these very expensive “supplement” they just happen to have around in their office.

    The only thing I can say it’s a positive about homeopathic or other types of “natural” care is that the doctors do spend a lot of time talking to you and trying to understand all aspects of your life. Something regular MDs could really learn from.

    But at those prices, I prefer to go to my local dive, where the bartender will listen to my entire life history for the price of a miller lite.

  • Vic

    I studied homeopathy and it made no sense to me. I have yet to see any scientific support for its validity. It reminds me of many kinds of belief systems wherein all logic and science is suspended in favor of some “wow” factor. While I have little faith in allopathic medicine due to politics, iatrogenic illness and the like, “healing” modalities like homeopathy seem bogus at best. I would like to see anything that proves I’m wrong on this point.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i’m sure i’ll get downvoted all to shit for saying this, but it’s worked for me, and for a friend. i had a serious allergic reaction when i moved to chicago; the tables in the classrooms at school where like 100 years old and had mold on them, the type that you can’t really perceive. the janitors didn’t wipe them down with any regularity and i had sneezing fits every time i walked into the 210 room at the OI. i bought some homeopathic pills for mold allergies and was able to sit in class comfortably.

    a friend of mine had a serious cat dander allergy. she was a sneezing coughing wreck on time, over at our place where several cats lived. i gave her a couple of cat allergy pills, and she stopped having fits, immediately. she’s a PhD in biology, even.

    there are some natural remedies that have a scientific basis, is all i’m saying. Big Pharma isn’t exactly our friend, and would prefer to sell things that sort of work and keep people coming back for more, forever, than actual cures and fixes. whatever you want to say about homeopathy, you can say and prove worse about Big Pharma.

    • Ryan

      “there are some natural remedies that have a scientific basis, is all i’m saying.”

      You seem to be confusing “herbal” and “homeopathic”. Most herbal is bullshit but at least there is a mechanism in which it could work (and some of it does). Homeopathy is 100 percent bullshit.

    • C Peterson

      Although labeled as homeopathic, they may have simply been compounds containing biologically active amounts of various unregulated “natural” ingredients. While such things are generally poor (even dangerous) medicines, they certainly can have an effect. Or it may have been the placebo effect, which is not only powerful, but even works when people know they are taking a placebo!

    • Drew M.

      Placebo is a wonderful thing.

      • Amruta

        Really its too good. I enjoyed it.

  • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

    Homeopathy is damn expensive too. A bottle of homeopathic “cough syrup” costs €18 in Spain. It’s basically honey and eucalyptus extracts. It does nothing. A real cough syrup costs around €5. It starts working after about half a hour.

    • C Peterson

      Well, a recent study (a real study) indicated that typical over-the-counter cough medicines are not very effective, and worked no better than taking a spoonful of honey. Eucalyptus contains soothing oils which are certainly effective at providing symptomatic relief for coughs and sore throats. So I wouldn’t say this “homeopathic” preparation you describe “does nothing”. But I would say that it isn’t really homeopathic, but rather represents some kind of herbal medication. Herbal medications are problematic because of their lack of oversight and lack of rigorous testing, but many certainly do have actual biological effects, unlike homeopathic preparations.

      Taking some honey and eucalyptus when you have a cough doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all. Paying €18 for somebody else’s preparation of it, however, is nuts.

      • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

        I mistakenly walked into a “parapharmacy” which can’t sell medications. If I had known that, I would have just walked back home and taken a spoonful of honey.

        Now a cough medication that relaxes me enough to block the cough reflex during the night works wonders.


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