What Doesn't Kill You...
So, funny story. A lot of homeopathic "medicines" can get to market by the simple virtue of not having any medicinal ingredients in them. After all, according to such practices, the more diluted a substance is, the more powerful the medical effects. As this guide says,
"The strength of the remedy is the number of times a remedy has been diluted and shaken vigorously (succussed) or, in some cases, triturated. A 6 means it has been diluted and sucussed 6 times; a 30 means 30 times. The higher the number, the stronger the remedy, however, stronger is not always better - it could "overshoot" the problem. You might want to start low and work your way up. High strengths (200, IM and higher) are rarely taken as often as low strengths.
If you can't get an X but can get a C in the same strength, do it if it's urgent. Both have been potentized the same number of times, thus the strengths are similar."Follow all that? The more times it's been diluted, the stronger it is.
This was actually a problem for one company, who actually included an active ingredient in an amount strong enough to work for a cold medicine they were marketing. Well, the marketers knew they needed a little something extra for what would otherwise be just another cold remedy on the pharmacy shelves, so they added a tiny little note at the bottom of the box: "homeopathic".
As an added bonus, "natural" remedies are not subjected to clinical trials or an approval process in the United States, so Matrixx (yes, that's really their name) could put their drug on the market immediately without needing to prove that it worked.
Granted, Canada's regulations aren't that much better:
"For homeopathic medicines with a specific use or purpose, photocopied and underlined evidence from at least one homeopathic reference to support the recommended use or purpose of each medicinal ingredient (see chapter 7.4.1 for an explanation of a specific recommended use or purpose). Product Licence Applications for homeopathic medicines with a non-specific use or purpose do not need to be accompanied by evidence supporting their use."
So the applicant only has to be non-specific ("health tablets", anyone?) or supply evidence from a single homeopathic reference to be licenced for sale here.
So how do they work? From the same guide I quoted above:
"The actual "physics" of this is unknown. When a remedy is made it is diluted and succussed, thus there is less material substance; but, as a result of the succussion, the energy of the original material has been expanded and made stronger."
Some homeopaths decide to take a more certain route with their snake oil sales, calling their wares "complimentary" or "integrative" with standard allopathic practices, which presents a nice little picture of a lab coat done in tie-dye, but in reality means "you should take actual medicine as well as this water-in-a-coloured-bottle I'm giving you".
In fact, Nevada State Board of Homeopathic Medical Examiners turned this claim on it's ear (allopathic medicine the "complimentary" one) when it was pointed out that any homeopath that tried to use normal medical practices would "bring Homeopathy and the other disciplines excluded under 630A.040 under the medical board purview."
Needless to say, this was not something the homeopaths wanted, as they would have to undergo years of further training (ie. become actual doctors) before they could add conventional medicine to their practice.
Now, the problem with calling random ingredients "complimentary" is that some folks might believe you, and if that happens, you have uncontrolled, unregulated substances that people think are medicine mixing with controlled, regulated substances.
This can, as you might imagine, cause problems.
As researcher Dr. Sunita Vohra says:
"We're not saying natural health products aren't safe. We're not saying they are safe, or that you can't ever use them with drugs, or that you must use them with drugs. There's no way we have enough information to make those sorts of absolute statements."
Of course, some people believe this could be the answer to any health care crisis in the U.S:
"If people wish to go to an alternative provider, they should be allowed to do so. I know of a number of people who have been greatly benefited by some types of alternative care, and as long as the type of care is shown to be safe, I believe a person ought to have that choice."
How about we prove it works, first.