March 22nd, 2011 by Potato

There was a recent CBC Marketplace episode on homeopathy, in particular, the bizarre decision by the Ontario government to regulate some homeopathic preparations. I have to agree with the hosts of the show that this is a dangerous move by the government, as it may lend credibility to a practice that is void of any evidence of efficacy. For those unaware of what homeopathy is, it’s an old belief that if an agent does something (e.g.: arsenic is a poison that can lead to gastrointestinal and liver issues), then a dilute solution of that something does the opposite (e.g.: a homeopathic preparation of diluted arsenic is given for gastrointestinal issues). However, homeopathy has never been shown to do anything, and the theory and dilutions were developed before key advances in our understanding of molecular chemistry: many homeopathic tinctures are diluted so much they contain zero molecules of the supposed original substance. I had long heard about British evidence-based medicine, skeptics, and science advocates in general battling against homeopaths in the UK, but this Marketplace episode was the first time I found out that there was any homeopathic activity here in Canada. I found that surprising, as unlike other controversial alternative therapies (e.g.: herbal/”natural”, high-dose vitamins, chiropractic), homeopathy is a whole new level of nonsense. There’s literally no there there. It’s not that the evidence is weak, it’s that there’s no evidence, and no rational theory suggesting any efficacy. Homeopathy is completely, utterly, without merit.

I wrote to my MPP & Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Deb Matthews with one simple question: is this a program that is a cost centre for the government, or does it generate revenue by charging fees to the homeopaths? This is a relevant question, as we must control health care costs in our province, and we can not afford to waste money “regulating” sugar water.

I hope that the government is at least making money off the attempt, because I do believe that certifying in any way a homeopathic preparation does, in the eyes of the lay public, lend an air of credibility to the woo-woo. It’s been over a month, and I haven’t heard back on that yet. I got a response from one of her staffers that I would hear back later, but after several weeks with no response I re-sent my question. It’s been another few weeks and still no response.

“Dr. Joshua Tepper: People are choosing health care, people are voting with their feet, if you will.”

You know what else people are voting with their feet for? Marijuana. People who know me know that I am not a user. I despise the weed, and don’t think really it should be legalized (though to be fair, cigarettes should be criminalized). But you know what? I bet that there are way more users of pot than there are of homeopathy in Ontario. And there is much better evidence that pot might actually help a few medical conditions! So I don’t see any reason for this kind of “voting with their feet” logic for homeopathy but not for marijuana.

Something else millions of Ontarians are voting with their feet for is vision and dental care. The government’s never paid for dental care, and cut regular eye check-ups out of OHIP coverage years ago, yet somehow has the money and energy to worry itself about homeopathy?


5 Responses to “Homeopathy”

  1. Rez Says:

    But the water you use to dilute the arsenic has a memory! It remembers what it was like swooshing around with the arsenic back in the day and it misses hanging out with the stuff, so when you take your dose of this homeopathic water, it gets inside you and tells all its water buddies how cool arsenic was and so your body learns how to cure all these terrible diseases by word of mouth. True story, bro.

  2. Michael James Says:

    I suppose in a certain sense vaccines are similar to homeopathy in that you use a weakened version of a bug to create antibodies. But homeopathy enthusiasts don’t seem to believe in vaccines.

    My sons used to play basketball with the sons of a woman who is a true believer in homeopathy. She did free work for a “doctor” helping him create marketing material (not that she called it marketing). Listening to her was a bit like listening to crazy Scientologists. It’s so far out there that it’s hard to even have a conversation about it. It was fun to watch her use these distilled water sprays to “cure” everything from a cold to a sore knee. When she was looking for a new mechanic for her car I managed to keep from suggesting that she just spray the car with the magic spray.

  3. JP Says:

    I’ve always liked James Randi’s take on homeopathy.


    He has a good one on ted.com too…

  4. Potato Says:

    I got a similar comment by email about vaccines, allergy shots, and hormesis. In that sense there is some “evidence-based homeopathy”, and that’s fair… but 10^X dilutions where X > 23, as described in the ancient texts… no.

  5. Potato Says:

    Sorry JP, you got caught up in the spam filter for a few hours there. I love James Randi, just the right combination of skeptical education and crotchety old man.