Martin Robbins: Magic potions must not be sold next to real medicines

Share
Related Topics

Homoeopathy is a bizarre relic of the 18th century, a magical ritual cast over water or sugar pills, claiming to create medicines but failing to pass objective testing. In spite of this, a £40m homoeopathic industry prospers in Britain. You can buy homoeopathic vaccines, or go on a homoeopathic diet. Homoeopathic explorers travel to African clinics, claiming to be able to treat Aids. One site even advertises homoeopathic urine for your children, which is taking the, er, mickey.

Believers claim something that causes symptoms can cure them, as long as it's diluted so there's none of the original substance left. So caffeine could cure insomnia, if diluted to the extent that all you have left is water – the remedies contain no active ingredient. Supposedly the water keeps a "memory" of the caffeine that was in it. The memory is only activated when tapped in a certain way, allowing it to remember the active ingredient while conveniently forgetting the sheep that died upstream of the water supply.

These curious beliefs violate the laws of physics, and homoeopathy has never been convincingly shown to be effective. Some people do feel better after taking a homoeopathic remedy, but this is easily explained by the placebo effect, and the fact that most sick people get better anyway.

You might argue it's harmless, but at a time when public services are facing cutbacks, taxpayers are forking out over £4m per year for it on the NHS. Public health may be at risk too. Selling homoeopathic products alongside medicines may fool people into believing they are equivalent. People may delay or avoid treatment, believing they are managing their condition with homoeopathy, and advice from homoeopaths can, in some cases, be dangerous – in 2006 a Newsnight investigation found homoeopaths advising people to take "alternative" anti-malarials.

Responsible pharmacists should not be selling magic potions alongside real medicine, and the Government should not be wasting millions encouraging this. It is shocking that we are paying for a medicine that appears to have nothing in it.

Martin Robbins is a scientist and writer who blogs at layscience.net

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

360 Resourcing Solutions: Export Sales Coordinator

£18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The old 1,000 Greek drachma notes and current 20 euros  

Greece debt crisis: History shows 'new drachma' is nothing to fear

Ben Chu
David Cameron leaves Number 10 to speak at Parliament  

Tunisia attack: To prevent more bloodshed we must accept that containment has not worked

Patrick Cockburn
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue
E L James's book Grey is a reminder of how the phenomenon of the best-seller works

Grey is a reminder of how the phenomenon of the best-seller works

It's hard to understand why so many are buying it – but then best-selling was ever an inexact science, says DJ Taylor
Behind the scenes of the world's most experimental science labs

World's most experimental science labs

The photographer Daniel Stier has spent four years gaining access to some of the world's most curious scientific experiments
It's the stroke of champions - so why is the single-handed backhand on the way out?

Single-handed backhand: on the way out?

If today's young guns wish to elevate themselves to the heights of Sampras, Graf and Federer, it's time to fire up the most thrilling shot in tennis
HMS Saracen: Meeting the last survivor of a submarine found 72 years after it was scuttled

HMS Saracen

Meeting the last survivor of a submarine found 72 years after it was scuttled
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Martine Wright lost both legs in the attack – she explains how her experience since shows 'anything is possible'

7/7 bombings 10 years on

Martine Wright lost both legs in the attack – she explains how her experience since shows 'anything is possible'