MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Some time ago, when we published our systematic review about the adverse effects associated with homeopathic remedies, there was an outcry of critics stating that it is not rational to claim, on the one hand, that homeopathic remedies are so dilute that they contain nothing and therefore do nothing and, on the other hand, that homeopathic remedies can cause side-effects. These people should, of course, have known better, but I admit it can be a little confusing. So, let me explain.

Every homeopathic remedy starts as a ‘mother tincture’. That is the undiluted stock prepared according to a homeopathic pharmacopoeia. The mother tincture is then diluted and shaken to give the first ‘potency’. Depending on the potency scale, this could be a ‘C1’ (1:100) or ‘D1’ (1:10). The resulting potency can be potentised again to give the second potency which can be potentised again to give the third potency. And this process of ‘serial dilution’ can be continued ad infinitum (the most common potency is the C30 which is a dilution of 30 times 1 : 100).

All of these remedies are by definition homeopathic, of course; even a mother tincture is strictly speaking a homeopathic remedy.

Now imagine we have a highly toxic stock, for instance, arsenic. This is by no means an extreme example, as many substances used in homeopathy are poisonous. A ‘D1’ of arsenic is both effective and dangerous: it is effective for killing rats and other unwanted creatures, and it is dangerous should a patient take it.

So, now we understand better why homeopathic remedies can, contrary to a common myth, cause direct adverse effects (in addition to the scenario outlined above, they can also be contaminated or adulterated, of course). We also realise that the ‘experts’ who protested against our review of side-effects of homeopathic remedies were either ignorant or stupid or both. Most importantly, we understand, I hope, that when we speak or write about the ineffectiveness of homeopathic remedies, we of course mean those that are too dilute to have any effect at all – and these are certainly the vast majority.

21 Responses to Homeopathic remedies: some are highly effective, and some are very unsafe

  • even a mother tincture is strictly speaking a homeopathic remedy.

    My memory may fail me here, but I seem to remember from Hahnemann’s Organon that he only used the 30C dilution and no other dilutions, and certainly not the mother tincture. Is it possible that this is a false memory that somehow stuck in my head?

    I am, of course, aware that current (and not so current) homeopaths also use lower potencies (as well as higher ones) and, if low enough, these are potentially effective or toxic, but I am not sure if these should be considered homeopathic, since homeopaths are not unknown to have surpassed their prophet in lunacy (isopathy comes to mind).

    If, on the other hand, homeopathic remedies are defined as what any homeopath/manufacturer calls a homeopathic remedy, there is no way to weasel out of this one, and the systematic review can only be considered accurate, despite any misgivings one would have.

    It should be considered though, I think, that this may be similar to Christians redefining their deit(ies) as “love”, leading to the inescapable conclusion that Saddam Hussein and Kim Il Song are “love” as well.

    • No Hahnemann came to use high dilutions only AFTER developing homeopathy; only later, he used higher and higher dilutions.
      Homeopaths use(d) mother tinctures all the time: for instance, during provings.
      And they use low potencies a lot, for instance in combination remedies.
      The ‘INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY OF HOMEOPATHY’ defines a homeopathic remedy in the ‘pharmaceutical sense’ as ‘MEDICINES PREPARED FROM A VARIETY OF SOURCE MATERIALS ACCORDING TO THE PRINCIPLES AND PROCEDURES STATED IN VARIOUS OFFICIAL HOMEOPATHIC PHARMACOPEIAS’. Mother tinctures clearly fall into this category.

      • In other words, I was wrong. It is good to know that. Thank you for correcting me. A reread of the Organon and his other exciting writings is in order. In my view, they are even more boring than the Bible’s “begats”. Too bad for me!

        It is also clearly makes homeopathy even more dangerous than I had come to convince myself. Talk about evil incarnate. Brr.

        • I had a first look at some online available editions of the Organon last weekend (after DU in another thread claimed in contrast to most other homeopaths that higher “potencies” are not stronger, I wanted to see what Hahnemann wrote on that – 1810 Ed. strength reduces, no clear statement found in the 7th Ed.)

          What amazed me was the arrogant undertone (especially in the 7th edition) against everyone who criticised homeopathy or simply used different methods – just like modern homeopathy advocates.

          Another thing I was reading the first time was the explanation of “like cures like”:
          illness can only be seen by the symptoms – a new illness displaces another (acute) illness or they form a new illness as a set of symptoms – homeopathic remedy causes similar symptoms and that way a counter-illness which displaces the real illness
          Never heard of that counter-illness concept (neither in homeopathy nor sceptical literature) – was that concept dropped sometimes by the homeopaths?

  • I know this might be slightly off-topic, but can anyone explain how one generates a “mother tincture” of a black hole, thereby allowing for the referenced proving:

    http://homeopathictraining.org/about-us/provings/cygnus-x-1-black-hole/

    I have to say, of all the idiocy and nonsense that is contained in the hypothesis of homeopathy, this has to be one of the most surreal delusions yet. What exactly would a homeopathic remedy based upon a black hole cure? If it weren’t on The Northwestern Academy of Homeopathy website I would think it was a parody (although, by definition, the whole website is a parody except to homeopaths.)

    • nobody can invent better parodies of homeopathy than the homeopaths!!! [see our friend DU]

    • It is one of the things that puzzle me with respect to quack lovers: they love the sound of science, they are fond of using scientific-sounding words, but they don’t want it to be actual science, since they invariably follow the route of least evidence. Calling what they do a parody is essentially correct, not only to those who attempt to be reasonable, but the quack lovers themselves seem to go out of their way to make everything they do look like a parody.

      • did you not play ‘doctor and patient’ as a child? that’s when their intellectual development seems to have stopped.

        • That’s a good analogy. I admit I did, if only once or twice, when my parents forced me to. I’ve never liked playing games, I always felt that if I was to make an effort, that effort better count for something. So, in a way, this would be very applicable to me: if I am going to accept playing games, someone better be ready to pay me in some way ^_^ I guess, if I had no morals, I’d be a great quack!

    • What exactly would a homeopathic remedy based upon a black hole cure?

      Tides?

    • OMG this MADE my day ! A damn homeopathic preparation of black hole, wow. Clearly we are way past the event horizon of stupidity.

    • but can anyone explain how one generates a “mother tincture” of a black hole

      :
      It says right in the beginning:

      The remedy was prepared by Rowan Jackson and astronomer, Peter Lipscomb, using an 8″ telescope, Meade LX90 aperture telescope. A vial of alcohol was affixed to the viewing end as the telescope was focused on Cygnus X-1’s location within the Cygnus constellation.

      Apparently, these nitwits prepare several different remedies by this method of taping a bottle of alcohol to the eyepiece of a telescope. Light of Venus, Mars, Jupiter etc. are examples, obtainable on order from Helios and other purveyors of bespoke remedies. I guess the black hole remedy and any remedy prepared by meditation, i.e. thinking hard about the stuff as you stir the diluent, must be the most absurd examples of homeodelusion.

  • There have also been instances of what might be incorrect dilutions or seriously worrying manufacturing problems I recall a couple

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/homeopathy-product-recalled-over-fears-it-may-contain-actual-medicine-9217206.html

    http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/SafetyInformation/SafetyAlertsforHumanMedicalProducts/ucm230764.htm

    The irony of the FDA finding many preparations by one manufacturer they observed containing nothing as the intended content missed the bottle is counterbalanced by the potential for serious harm. Every time I feel like laughing about how stupid homeopathy is I try to remember it kills, indirectly as far as we know, but it kills. Like many other forms of ignorance and magical thinking it is far from harmless. The devotees will still claim it’s a gentle treatment with no side effects…..

  • What exactly would a homeopathic remedy based upon a black hole cure?

    That’s where we see that home-o-paths are True Empiricists: they would apply the carefully prepared remedy-for-unknown-conditions to healthy people, see how become somber and sad they become and then conclude that it this is a highly effective remedy that ‘heals’ seasonal affective disorder or melancholy or depression or hangnails or jock itch or athlete’s foot or excessive appetite or some other such thing.

  • If there is a black hole remedy then there must surely be an arse hole remedy. Now I wouldn’t have wanted to be on that proving.

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