The current debate about homeopathy is intense and often emotional. Yet, many people who discuss the loudest seem not even to know what homeopathy is; others are unaware that there is not one but many forms of homeopathy. The following passages from my book are an attempt to define some of them:
Agrohomeopathy is a somewhat exotic fringe area of homeopathy. It is the term describing the use of homeopathic remedies to treat gardens and crops. Its proponents claim that it is an effective, chemical free, non-toxic method of growing plants. They also believe that agrohomeopathy renders plants resistant to disease by strengthening them ‘from the inside out’. Agrohomeopathy, they say, can even treat a trauma retained in the ‘biological memory’ of the plant resulting from conditions such as forced hybridization, moving to places outside their natural habitats, or exaggerated fertilization. There is no evidence, however, that any of these assumptions are correct.
Classical homeopathy is the term used to describe the type of homeopathy that adheres to the principles, instructions and methods published by Hahnemann. As Hahnemann’s texts are by no means free of contradictions, classical homeopathy is not a well-defined concept. As it is practised today, it incorporates ideas that originate not from Hahnemann but also from other prominent homeopaths, such as Kent. Thus some might use the term ‘classical homeopathy’ to denote the highly individualised prescribing of Hahnemann and to contrast it with the symptom-orientated prescribing of ‘clinical homeopathy’. Others might employ it to differentiate those homeopaths who would practise no method other than homeopathy from those who regularly combine homeopathy with conventional medicine. Others again might take it to mean unicist homeopathy administering one single remedy at a time, the way Hahnemann mostly did.
Clinical Homeopathy While ‘classical homeopathy’ relies on individualised prescribing according to the ‘like cures like’ principle and selects the optimal remedy for each patient based on the findings from provings, clinical homeopathy resembles more the way drugs are prescribed in conventional medicine; it selects the appropriate remedy according to the condition of the patient, while largely disregarding the ‘like cure like’ principle. However, clinical and classical homeopathy are not mutually exclusive; in fact, there is considerable overlap between the two approaches, and they are often used in parallel by the same clinician. In other words, if the symptoms of a patient reveal a very clear indication for a certain homeopathic remedy, clinical homeopathy is used even by classical homeopaths. For instance, Arnica is considered a clear indication for cuts and bruised; so is Coffea for insomnia, Drosera for cough, Opium for constipation etc., and these remedies would be employed regularly by classical homeopaths. Clinical homeopathy is also used by many non-homeopaths as well as by consumers when they self-prescribe. It does not require an understanding any of the principles of homeopathy nor its fine details. Moreover, clinical homeopathy is also the predominant approach in veterinary homeopathy.
Complex homeopathy is the use of preparations which contain more than one homeopathic remedy. Even though it is not in line with Hahnemann’s teachings, complex homeopathy is currently highly popular and commercially successful. Homeopathic combination remedies can be bought over the counter and usually contain a range of different remedies which, according to the concepts of clinical homeopathy, are most likely to cure a given condition.
Homeo-prophylaxis Some homeopaths advise their patients against immunisations and instead recommend homeopathic immunisations or ‘homeo-prophylaxis’. This normally entails the oral administration of homeopathic remedies, called nosodes. Such remedies are potentised remedies based on pathogenic material like bodily fluids or pus. There is no evidence that homeopathic immunisations are effective. After conventional immunisations, patients develop immunity against the infection in question which can be monitored by measuring the immune response to the intervention. No such evidence exists for homeopathic immunisations. Despite this lack of evidence, some homeopaths – particularly those without medical training – continue to recommend homeopathic immunisations. A recent US conference on the topic was advertised with the slogan ‘homeo-prophylaxis is a gentle, non-toxic alternative’. Such promotion constitutes a serious risk for public health: once rates for conventional immunisations fall below a certain threshold, the population would lose its herd immunity, subsequently even those individuals who were immunised are at risk of acquiring the infection.
Homotoxicology is a method inspired by homeopathy which was developed by Hans Heinrich Reckeweg (1905 – 1985). He believed that all or most illness is caused by an overload of toxins in the body. The toxins originate, according to Reckeweg, both from the environment and from the malfunction of physiological processes within the body. His treatment consists mainly in applying homeopathic remedies which usually consist of combinations of single remedies, because health cannot be achieved without ridding the body of toxins. The largest manufacturer and promoter of remedies used in homotoxicology is the German firm Heel.
Isopathy is the use of potentised remedies which are derived from the causative agent of the disease that is being treated. It thus does not follow the supreme law of homeopathy; instead of ‘like cures like’, instead it postulates that identical cures identical. An example of isopathy is the use of potentised grass pollen to treat patients suffering from hay fever. Some of the methodologically best trials that generated a positive result were done using isopathy; they therefore did not test homeopathy and its principal assumption, the ‘like cures like’ theory. They are nevertheless regularly used by proponents of homeopathy to argue that homeopathy is effective.
Pluralist homeopathy is a variation of Hahnemann’s original concepts. It allows or even encourages the use of more than one homeopathic remedy to treat a patient at one time. The remedies may cover different aspects of the patient’s illness. Hahnemann was very clear in his instructions that normally one patient should get only one single remedy at one time.
Purist homeopathy A purist homeopath is a clinician who adheres strictly to the instructions of Hahnemann. Since the early days of homeopathy, homeopaths were divided by this issue: some purists believe that any deviation from Hahnemann’s dictum is a travesty that renders homeopathy ineffective, while others are convinced that clinicians have an ethical responsibility to incorporate new medical knowledge into their practice. An editorial in the British Homeopathic Journal of 1944, for instance, stated that ‘to shut one’s eyes to the discoveries of chemotherapy…is…foolishness. The ‘pure’ homeopath so called is a crank living in his own little cell. The complete physician is he who endeavours to know all, and knowing all, to choose what is best for the patient.’
Unicist Homeopathy School of homeopathy that insists on following Hahnemann’s dictum of using only one single remedy for one patient at any one time. See also pluralist homeopathy.
One would be forgiven for being confused in view of this plethora of variations. Is there anything these treatments have in common?, you may well ask. The answer is yes:
THEY ALL ARE BIOLOGICALLY IMPLAUSIBLE AND NOT SUPPORTED BY GOOD EVIDENCE OF EFFECTIVENESS.