MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

I was surprised to receive this email yesterday: “Hello Edzard Ernst, You may remember I got in touch last week regarding losing a loved one to the ravages of drugs or alcohol. I just wanted to remind you that Narconon is here to help. For over fifty years Narconon drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres have been successfully reversing the tide of addiction for men and woman from all walks of life. The Narconon programme has saved them from the misery of addiction, and the potential of an early grave. We not only address the cause of the addiction, we resolve them…”

The email was signed by a man from ‘Narconon International’. First I thought someone has been counting the empty bottles in my bin, then I read it again and noticed the word ‘NARCONON’ and remembered that I once wrote about it. A quick search located my article from THE GUARDIAN 2012:

Imagine a therapy that “enables an individual to rid himself of the harmful effects of drugs, toxins and other chemicals that lodge in the body and create a biochemical barrier to spiritual well-being“. If you were told that the treatment was entirely natural and had already “enabled hundreds of thousands to free themselves from the harmful effects of drugs and toxins and so achieve spiritual gains”, wouldn’t you be tempted to try it?

Who doesn’t want a body free of nasty chemicals? And who wouldn’t be delighted at the chance to counter a growing threat to an “advancement in mental … wellbeing”?

These claims are being made for the “Purification Rundown” (“Purif” for short) and the closely related Narconon detox programmes, which mainly consist of regular exercise, sauna and nutrition, with industrial doses of vitamins and minerals added for good measure. Some of the claims are quite specific: the Purif programme is supposed to increase your IQ, reduce the level of cancer-causing agents in your body, and even enable you to lose weight easily and quickly. The Narconon programme is more specifically targeted at drug and alcohol dependency and is claimed to have an impressive success rate of 75%.

Both programmes were developed by L Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) and are currently marketed by the Church of Scientology. The CoS is not generally known to be an organisation that promotes healthcare programmes. Hubbard, the pulp-fiction writer who founded the CoS, portrayed himself somewhat over-optimistically as a pioneer, innovator and nuclear physicist.

He taught his followers that, at their core, humans contain a “thetan”. After creating the universe, thetans accidentally became trapped in physical bodies and, through scientology, we can restore the immortal, omnipotent, god-like powers of the “thetan” within us. Weird stuff that is the preserve of Hollywood eccentrics, you might think, but perhaps the CoS’s detox-ventures are an attempt to conquer new territory?

A typical course of treatment lasts several weeks and consists of many hours of exercise and sauna every day. This regimen is supplemented with megadoses of vitamins and minerals, which can cause problems. Niacin, one vitamin that is given in high doses as part of the regimen, can be particularly dangerous. The US National Institutes of Health warns that at high doses it can cause “liver problems, gout, ulcers of the digestive tract, loss of vision, high blood sugar, irregular heartbeat, and other serious problems.” It should not be taken by people who already have liver damage.

Seven fatalities of people undergoing the Narconon programme are currently being investigated in Oklahoma, although the CoS says these deaths are not connected with the treatment regimen itself.

Whatever the truth regarding these deaths, a review of the evidence about the treatment regimen’s effectiveness – carried out by the Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services in 2008 – found no good evidence that the Narconon programme works:

There is currently no reliable evidence for the effectiveness of Narconon as a primary or secondary drug prevention program. This is partly due to the insufficient research evidence about Narconon and partly due to the non-experimental nature of the few studies that exist.

The claim that such detox treatments eliminate toxins from the body is, of course, easily testable. All we would need to do is define what toxin we are talking about and measure the change in levels of that toxin compared with a control group of volunteers who did not receive the detox.

But such studies are not available. Why? Do the marketing men believe in their own claims? Maybe they feel that profits and evidence are like fire and water? Or possibly the thetans have an aversion to science?

If you think that the Purif, Narconon or any other form of alternative detox eliminates toxins, you might be mistaken. Most clients have lost some money, many have lost their ability to think straight, some may even have lost their lives. But there is no reliable evidence that they have actually lost any toxins.

END OF MY 2012 ARTICLE

In 2012, I found no evidence to suggest that NARCONON works. Now, I looked again and found this article reporting a non-randomised, controlled study:

“In 2004, Narconon International developed a multi-module, universal prevention curriculum for high school ages based on drug abuse etiology, program quality management data, prevention theory and best practices. We review the curriculum and its rationale and test its ability to change drug use behavior, perceptions of risk/benefits, and general knowledge. After informed parental consent, approximately 1000 Oklahoma and Hawai’i high school students completed a modified Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) Participant Outcome Measures for Discretionary Programs survey at three testing points: baseline, one month later, and six month follow-up. Schools assigned to experimental conditions scheduled the Narconon curriculum between the baseline and one-month follow-up test; schools in control conditions received drug education after the six-month follow-up. Student responses were analyzed controlling for baseline differences using analysis of covariance. At six month follow-up, youths who received the Narconon drug education curriculum showed reduced drug use compared with controls across all drug categories tested. The strongest effects were seen in all tobacco products and cigarette frequency followed by marijuana. There were also significant reductions measured for alcohol and amphetamines. The program also produced changes in knowledge, attitudes and perception of risk. The eight-module Narconon curriculum has thorough grounding in substance abuse etiology and prevention theory. Incorporating several historically successful prevention strategies this curriculum reduced drug use among youths.”

The question arises: would I send anyone to the NARCONON programme?

My answer is NO!

Not because the trial is lousy (which it is) and not because the programme is too expensive (which it is); I would not send anyone to any institution that has even the slightest links to Scientology.

 

8 Responses to Scientology detox? No thanks!!!

  • Prof, your 2012 article stated “The CoS is not generally known to be an organisation that promotes healthcare programmes.”
    But, I suggest, that is precisely why it was founded – to promote mental health by a process of ‘auditing’ patients/supplicants so that they gradually become ‘clear’.

    L. Ron Hubbard set out his proposals in ‘Dianetics: A new science of the mind’, in ‘Astounding Science Fiction’, May 1950.
    The title of this magazine says all you need to know – but should you wish to know more, then purchase the series of courses which will lead you to become an ‘Operating Thetan’ at grade VIII (as Tom Cruise is), whereupon you will learn of the Galactic Overlord who sent the Thetans from planet Xenu. Or check out Google for ‘Xenu’!

    ‘Scientology’ only became a ‘church’ and a ‘religion’ to obviate paying taxes for which the organisation was being hounded by the US IRS. No deity is worshiped as far as I know.

    Hubbard’s true motives in creating this ‘new science of the mind’ are obscure, but his own health may have been a considerable inducement. I was first asked to take a test to see if my health could be improved when I was approached outside the Scientology HQ in Tottenham Court Road, in 1968!

    ‘Health’ is at the heart of the beliefs and practices.
    It’s an old gag, but I recall: “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps!”

    • “The CoS is not generally known to be an organisation that promotes healthcare programmes.”
      oops!
      even 5 years ago I was forgetful!!!
      I forgot a word
      “The CoS is not generally known to be an organisation that promotes EFFECTIVE healthcare programmes.”

    • Oh, happy memories of the Tottenham Court Road CoS testing centre…I don’t remember there was a health element, but I do remember the test was in a folder which proclaimed its origins in Oxford….”Oxford, Mississippi” was the reply to my enquiry…..

      I have an idea these people were actually banned from operating in the UK at one time….mindboggling that parents would give consent for their offspring to have any contact with them at all.

  • I could see Edzard getting down with some Scientology, Tony Robbins, Tom Cruise chanting circles. Slight jest and sarcasm indicated here.

  • Scientology has a long and very public reputation of promoting pseudoscience.

    They believe in “touch assists” rather than medical care to fix everything. It’s their version of reiki or faith healing.

    At least the word is spreading about Narconon in North America as more facilities face legal battles from authorities and lawsuits from families of victims who have died. Several prominent locations have been shut down, and other municipalities have refused them permission to build in their jurisdictions.

    Keep in mind that scientology is also at war with psychiatry and has a front group called the CCHR (Citizens Coalition for Human Rights). The motto outside their Hollywood museum is “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death.” Several scientologists have killed themselves and/or others because they eschewed the psychiatric help they so badly needed.

    Some well-known quack doctors like Burzynski supporter and vocal anti-vaxxer Julian Whitaker have been associated with the CCHR.

    And scientology also targets chiropractors through another front group called WISE that purports to help their businesses. Like Narconon, it’s all an introduction to scientology intended to lure in new recruits and more money.

    • WOO! When you say they target chiropractors, do you mean they attack their beliefs or endorse them? They all seem to share a common bond of quackery.

      • Dr. Cox,

        They “target” chiropractors as potential recruits for their WISE business-development and management programme, which is essentially Intro to Scientology 101. By indoctrinating the chiros, they hope to drum up more business and more money for their cult.

        They also go after dentists the same way. One of the most prominent scientologists in the US is a wealthy New York City dentist.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Institute_of_Scientology_Enterprises

        Check all the lawsuits from employees of dental clinics who are pressured and expected to join scientology.

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