I’ve heard the term “homeopathic” for many years but I’ve never bothered to check into exactly what it was. Then a few years ago I read a book that touched on the subject and described its basic principles, and it sounded like utter nonsense to me. Diluting a substance to the point where only a single molecule (if even that) still exists, then calling it “medicine”? They’ve got to be kidding. But no, this has been practiced for over a century as legitimate treatment for all kinds of ailments, and people actually believe it works — even on animals. Some of these treatments go beyond mega-dilutions into other woo-woo areas such as crystal therapy, “water memory”, flower remedies, and other such twaddlecock. The Wikipedia entry about it is a great read.
Comedy genius team Mitchell & Webb summed up these ideas perfectly in this sketch, which shows what would happen if homeopathy were the sole treatment offered in the ER. It’s so wonderfully bitchy.
The clincher for me, however, was watching James Randi swallow an entire bottle of a homeopathic sleeping aid onstage during a TED Talk. His point? If these things actually work, he should pass out and overdose within a short time. Needless to say, nothing happened during his entire talk. Not even a yawn. What more proof do you need? In fact, last year a large number of skeptics around the world pulled the same stunt, swallowing entire bottles of homeopathic “medications” to no effect whatsoever. The event was organized by 1023.org.uk, and if they do it again this year I’d like to participate.
This brings me to my own experience with this stuff. In November I was diagnosed with a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the joints — a form of arthritis, but one that falls outside the usual categories and can afflict people of all ages. (I’m only 40 for Mithras’ sake!) This has caused my right knee to become all but useless, and my doctor has put me on a couple of steroidal medications to fight the inflammation and help it heal. One of the side effects of the medication happens to be a loss of potassium and magnesium in the body, which results in leg and foot cramps. Ugh, they’re horrible.
So one day I was in Rite-Aid and spotted these pills that claimed to help leg cramps. ”Hmmm, this might be worth a try,” I thought. I’d already started taking potassium supplements, but these supposedly were good to take just before bed and even during cramping. So I paid $7.99 for a bottle and gave it a try that night. No cramps! The next night I did have cramps, though, so I took a couple of the pills and about 10 minutes later they went away. Hmmm. The next day I looked at the box more closely to see what the ingredients were. There was a long list, each with a “12X” or “6X” next to it. Whaaa…? That’s when I took another look at the front of the box, and waayyyy up in the upper right-hand corner I saw the word Homeopathic in itty-bitty letters.
The “12X” stuff means the original substance has been diluted that many times. And 12X (6C) dilution means there’s practically no substance left. Here, let Wikipedia explain:
A 2C dilution requires a substance to be diluted to one part in one hundred, and then some of that diluted solution diluted by a further factor of one hundred. This works out to one part of the original substance in 10,000 parts of the solution. A 6C dilution repeats this process six times, ending up with the original material diluted by a factor of 100-6=10-12 (one part in one trillion or 1/1,000,000,000,000). Higher dilutions follow the same pattern. In homeopathy, a solution that is more dilute is described as having a higher potency, and more dilute substances are considered by homeopaths to be stronger and deeper-acting remedies. The end product is often so diluted that it is indistinguishable from the dilutant (pure water, sugar or alcohol).
That’s like putting a drop of medicine into Lake Erie and then drinking the whole thing. Think that’s gonna be potent stuff? Dream on, tampon!
I immediately stopped taking them. Why? They seemed to work, right? No, not with this new information. The cramping wasn’t a nightly event, after all, so that first night I simply didn’t have any. The pills had nothing to do with it. And when I cramped up on the second night, they went away in about 10 minutes…just like they always have, all my life. So instead of paying $8 for some sort of muscle relaxant like I thought, I wasted that money on sugar pills that contained a bunch of diluted-to-nothingness ingredients. In fact, the only legitimate substance in this “medication” is quinine, which has its own interesting history (it was once used to fight malaria). I feel like an idiot for falling for it, but that Homeopathic label is very small on the box and the sheer amount of text crammed onto that package is a little ridiculous. Usually I’m more observant than that when buying medicine — but I was in a rush and in severe discomfort, and I just wanted to get out of there with my stuff.
Never again, my friends. The placebo effect is a powerful thing, it can make you think anything is possible. Even unscientific nonsense like this.