Some time ago, we published a systematic review of adverse effects of homeopathic remedies. It prompted a spade of angry letters to the editor essentially claiming that homeopathic are so dilute that they cannot possibly cause problems. But they can! And here is another case in point.

It has been reported that, in Germany, several patients suffered from adverse effects such as visual disturbances and dry mouth after taking a homeopathic atropine remedy purchased from a pharmacy.

A 56-year-old man experienced taste and visual disturbances and drowsiness about 15 minutes after taking 30 drops of a homeopathic solution prepared at the pharmacy. Two further patients also experienced increased symptoms of malaise, slurred speech, dry mouth, hypertension, and dizziness after taking the homeopathic product. In each case, the symptoms improved one to two days after discontinuation of intake. In one case, the effects were observed again after repeated intake.

The pharmacy prepared the homeopathic prescriptions on the prescription of a Heilpraktiker. For this purpose, the pharmacy first diluted an Atropinum sulfuricum D4 dilution in a ratio of 1:10. The diluted solution was then added to three other OTC homeopathics. The proportion of the diluted solution was 50 percent (M/M) in each case.

Laboratory analyses found an increased atropine content of up to a factor of 800 in all the solutions tested. It was determined that the pharmacy’s manufacturing process was not the cause of the problem. The steps taken to produce the homeopathic remedy were demonstrably correct.

Eventually, the company that supplied the atropine solution discovered a mix-up: what was declared to be a D4 dilution was in fact the mother tincture of atropine, i.e. undiluted substance. The pharmacist had therefore used the mother tincture instead of the D4 dilution to prepare the formulations.

The story shows that, unsurprisingly, the quality control of homeopathic remedies can be deficient. When this happens, remedies that should contain nothing suddenly contain something. It is, I think, indisputable that this has the potential to harm patients. And this leads me to the conclusions that:

  1. homeopathic remedies are dangerous when they contain nothing because they leave illness untreated;
  2. homeopathic remedies are dangerous when they contain something because they may poison patients.


5 Responses to Who said that homeopathic remedies are harmless? Cases of atropine poisoning

  • The story shows that, unsurprisingly, the quality control of homeopathic remedies can be deficient.

    The same goes for lots of alternative ‘medicines’ as well as supplements.
    This is what will inevitably happen if lobby groups for these substances get their way, and succeed in exempting their product lines from the same rigorous quality control that actual medicines have to comply with – usually because it is argued that substances are harmless by their very nature (homeopathy) or ‘just natural vitamins and herbs’ (supplements).

    It this tells us one thing, it is that ANYTHING that people are supposed to ingest should be subject to a minimum standard for quality control, even if its purveyors insist that their product is always perfectly harmless. Unfortunately, it appears that many of these products are sold without even the most basic quality control, e.g. such as those in place for drinking water (which, by its very nature, should be the single most harmless product imaginable).

  • This story also highlights the unexplained (and inexplicable) differences in approaches to homeopathic prescribing.

    Decimal potency multi-remedy prescriptions are more popular in some European countries, while in the UK the approach tends to be more “classical” – single remedy Centesimal potency, up to very high “potencies” – 30C, 200C etc.

    Why these differences in approach? And do the European practitioners favour different explanations for the mechanism of action, from those favoured in the UK?

    As I understand it, the three main contenders for ‘mechanism of action’ of dilute remedies are: 1) Nanoparticles, 2) Memory of water and 3) Spiritual Essence. Do we know if the ‘low-potency multi-remedy’ people favour different mechanisms from the ‘classical single-remedy high potency’ people?

  • Does this mean that “homeopathic remedies are dangerous”?
    NO. It means that if pharmaceutical companies (of any kind) can follow improper methods and endanger people.
    Gives no indications about whether they are dangerous or harmless.
    Just casting unjustified aspersions as usual, Edzard.

    • Homeopathic ‘remedies’:
      – No mandatory quality control
      – Assumed safe, without actual evidence for safety, let alone efficacy
      – Developed, prepared and administered by people who are medically and scientifically incompetent

      Real medicines:
      – Stringent quality control mandated by law
      – Evidence of both safety and efficacy required before they can be marketed
      – Developed and prepared by scientists with many years of training in both chemistry and medicine
      – Prescribed by people who have at least 10 years of medical training

      Does this mean that “homeopathic remedies are dangerous”?

      I think that you should now be able to provide a nuanced answer to this question.

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