CAMLAW: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog

Is homeopathy a scam?

Homeopathy is bunk, skeptics continue to claim.

This is from an article entitled Homeopathy Awareness Week:


ccording to the British Homeopathic Association (does that mean the fewer members they have the more powerful the group?) June 14-21 is Homeopathy Awareness Week. I would like to do my part to increase awareness of homeopathy.

I would like people to be aware of the fact that homeopathy is a pre-scientific philosophy, that it is based entirely on magical thinking and is out of step with the last 200 years of science. People should know that typical homeopathic remedies are diluted to the point that no active ingredient remains, and that homeopaths invoke mysterious vibrations or implausible and highly fanciful water chemistry. I would further like people to know that clinical research with homeopathic remedies, when taken as a whole, show no effect for any such remedy.

In short, homeopathy is bunk. But here is a somewhat longer description of its history.Homeopathy was founded by Samuel Christian Hahnemann (1755-1843), a German physician who had become dissatisfied with the medicine of his day. Hahnemann lived in a time before the rudiments of modern medicine had been developed, before the germ theory of infectious disease, before the first antibiotic, before systematic testing of drugs for safety and efficacy, before surgical procedures were performed with anesthesia or sterile technique. In his century, it is fairly safe to say, conventional medicine was more likely to do harm than good, and hospitals were a place people went to die, rather than get well. It is no surprise, therefore, that Hahnemann sought for an alternative to the classical approach of his day.

For many years Hahnemann's search was unsuccessful, until he stumbled upon what he thought was an amazing observation. He took a small amount of cinchona bark, which contains quinine, the drug used to treat malaria, and developed the symptoms of malaria. From this observation he developed homeopathy's first law, similia similibus curentur, or let likes be cured by likes. In other words, drugs which cause specific symptoms can be used to cure diseases which cause the same symptoms.

As homeopathy evolved, other laws were also discovered. The law of infinitesimal doses was actually a late development by Hahnemann, but today is often thought of as the primary characteristic of homeopathy. This law states that when drugs are diluted in either water or alcohol, they actually increase in potency. Today, serial dilutions of 1:100 repeated 6 or 30 times are commonly used. Between each dilution the substance is violently shaken, which is thought to be necessary to activate the properties of the drug.

Hahnemann also developed, as the underpinning of homeopathy, his own theory of disease, called the miasm theory. According to this theory there are three miasms which are responsible for all human disease, and homeopathic remedies are directed towards treating these offending miasms.

Homeopathy enjoyed a great deal of success in Europe and later in the U.S. in the 19th century. In the year 1900, there were 22 homeopathic colleges and 56 purely homeopathic hospitals in the U.S. During this century, however, as modern medicine came into its own, as life expectancy rose from about 40 years to 80 years, and as the modern approach to disease continuously improved the quality of life, producing a stunning revolution that homeopathy had failed to provide in the previous century, homeopathy declined steadily until it was all but gone.

It is an amazing fact of history, however, that pseudosciences rarely, if ever, die completely. Belief systems such as astrology, phrenology, and homeopathy itself survive long after their usefulness or the primitive scientific environment in which they were developed. Today, homeopathy is experiencing a resurgence, initially in Europe, but it is quickly spreading to the U.S. Homeopathic hospitals have been incorporated into the National Health Service in Britain, and early on in its history the FDA granted approval to the entire homeopathic pharmacopoeia because the remedies had already been in use for so many years.

Today, although there are several different traditions of homeopathy, the basic principles as outlined above remain unchanged. Homeopaths offer as a point of superiority of their method of treatment, that they treat the whole person, taking a "holistic" approach. They denigrate conventional physicians for "focusing narrowly on the disease." But what does their holistic approach actually entail?

Practitioners with legal questions concerning the practice of homeopathic medicine should consult an attorney familiar with laws and regulations surrounding homeopathy.

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Michael H. Cohen, Esq.; 468 North Camden Dr. | Beverly Hills, California 90210 | 310-844-3173