Orac on homeopaths’ response to the FTC ruling against homeopathy; major retail chains still sell the expensive water

On November 19 I reported that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruled that homeopathic “medicines”, to be advertised as efficacious, must have been scientifically tested, like all drugs, to show that they are indeed useful. (See the FTC statement and link to longer report here).

Well, of course the quacks couldn’t let that one rest, and Orac, in a deliciously splenetic post at Respectful Insolence (“Homeopaths respond to the FTC’s new position on homeopatrhy. The Universe laughs”, describes and then demolishes the pathetic attempt of The American Homeopathic Institute to defend their quackery and debunk the FTC’s ruling. It’s not surprising that their defense is ineffably lame, especially the claims that homeopathy really has been scientifically tested and that those who questioned it (even in formal reports) were biased and “pseudoscientific.” Of course it’s the homeopaths themselves who fit those terms, as well as the people who use these nostrums.

Do read Orac’s piece; it will bring you up to speed on the controversy. I’ll just show the last paragraph:

Ya gotta love homeopaths. They’re deluded quacks, and their overwrought language, coupled with the fact that this statement was written by homeopaths, perfectly encapsulates the nonsensical thinking behind homeopathy.

As I’ve pointed out before, Whole Foods, that bastion of overpriced but “healthy” foodstuffs, sells homeopathic nostrums. They even have a defense of homeopathic remedies on the Whole Foods blog. An excerpt, with my comments in bold:

Homeopathy has a long history of use all over the world [JAC: So has petitionary prayer for healing!]:

  • Homeopathy comes from the Greek words homeo meaning “similar” and pathos meaning “suffering.”  It was first used by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann in 1796.
  • Homeopathic medicines are therapeutically active [JAC:  no evidence for that!]micro-doses of mineral, botanical, and biological substances.  Similar to other over-the-counter medicines, homeopathic medicines can treat acute health conditions such as allergies, coughs, colds and flu symptoms.
  • Homeopathic medicines are regulated as drugs by the FDA and are made according to the specifications of the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (HPUS), which lists approximately 1,280 medicines.
  • eye drops and suppositories. [JAC: They’re “regulated”, but not for “safety and effectiveness”; see here. CVS’s statement is misleading.]

The homeopathic healing concept can be seen in every day examples and homeopathic medicines are available in a variety of forms:

  • If one chops several onions in a small kitchen, one will experience symptoms such as spasmodic sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes.  All these symptoms will be improved by breathing fresh air.  A patient experiencing these same symptoms, including feeling better when breathing fresh air, whether caused by allergy or a cold, will be relieved by a homeopathic preparation of the onion also known as Allium cepa.  It is as if a very small amount of the onion helped the body to react better against symptoms of cold or allergy similar to those caused by the onion. [JAC: This is the bogus “theory” of homeopathy: a very small—indeed, nonexistent—dose of something that replicates your symptoms will actually cure you.]
  • Sometimes more than one medicine is needed for treatment.  These combinations are available in a variety of dosage forms such as tablets, gels, creams, syrups, eye drops and suppositories.

I’ve sent this tweet to them (with a shortened link to the FTC summary), and perhaps, if you use Twitter, you could do it as well. I wonder if they’d respond.

The CVS pharmacy chain in the US (which pioneered health consciousness by stopping their sale of cigarettes) also sells homeopathic remedies. Here’s a screenshot of some of them.


Despite a social media campaign against CVS led by Yvette d’Entremont, CVS didn’t back down and didn’t comment. Ergo another tweet:

If you dislike this kind of woo (and remember, taking homeopathic drugs instead of scientific medicine can actually be harmful), you might follow suit.

h/t: Barry


  1. Ann German
    Posted December 20, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the info . . . happy longest night of the year!

  2. GBJames
    Posted December 20, 2016 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Having abandoned Twitter in a fit of outrage, I am unable to follow suit. Maybe I should turn it back on for just this purpose.

    • GBJames
      Posted December 20, 2016 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Turned it back on for this.

  3. chris moffatt
    Posted December 20, 2016 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I’m intrigued by this “hair of the dog” philosophy having tried it for hangover and found it wanting. A little of what made you ill will make you well? So we should treat victims of shark attack by setting angry chihuahuas to bite their ankles? magical thinking – the curse of the ages.

    • jeremy pereira
      Posted December 20, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      A little of what made you ill will make you well?

      Vaccines work on that principle so it’s not a priori a bunch of nonsense. The difference is that vaccines have been shown to work in scientific trials.

      If homeopathy worked, homeopaths could easily silence the FTC by having an independent lab run some properly conducted clinical trials. Instead they jump up and down screaming, so we have to ask why, and the answer can only be that they know it doesn’t really work.

      • chris moffatt
        Posted December 20, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        We know why vaccines (generally) work, stimulates production of antibodies. Nobody can explain the rationality of the homeopathy principle except by positing that which is provably false. I agree with you they know it doesn’t work and it’s an enormous scam.

        • jeremy pereira
          Posted December 21, 2016 at 10:10 am | Permalink

          We know why vaccines (generally) work, stimulates production of antibodies.

          We do now, but vaccination started a long time before we understood the mechanism.

          Nobody can explain the rationality of the homeopathy principle

          I’d go further than that: I’d say we have a pretty good handle on why it cannot possibly work, but even if we didn’t understand that and even if we were still ignorant of the mechanism behind vaccination, we could still look at the clinical trials and see that one works but the other does not.

      • Posted December 20, 2016 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

        Vaccines don’t really work on that principle. They prevent you from getting sick in future (often at the cost of making you a little sick now); they don’t cure an existing sickness.

        Also homeopathy is not quite a simple (and theoretically sensible) as that – it is a little of something that causes the same symptoms, not a little of the actual thing that made you ill. The a priori basis is shaky at best – forgivable for the era of its invention; unforgivable for the 21st Century.

        • jeremy pereira
          Posted December 21, 2016 at 10:01 am | Permalink

          You can nitpick the details if you like but the broad principle is the same – use something that is a weakened version of or similar to the problem to combat the problem ands so just making fun of it doesn’t work.

          Homeopathy supporters will come up with the vaccine trope if you mock the curing like with like thing. The idea isn’t a priori stupid, it’s just been shown to be false except in one important instance.

          • Posted December 22, 2016 at 2:48 am | Permalink

            It’s not nitpicking. If we lived 100 years ago, I’d agree with you. But this is the 21st Century. We know how vaccines work. We know broadly how drugs work. We know that vaccines protect against future infections (of the right type) by priming the immune system. We know there is no basis for curing anything on the “like with like” principle.

            The idea wasn’t a priori stupid in the past – but it is a priori stupid now.

            I agree that making fun on things in general is not a great strategy for convincing believers (though it can be helpful for informing the undecided) – but even suggesting that homeopathy and vaccination can be legitimately lumped together is dangerous nonsense. They are totally, utterly different.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted December 20, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      I have never tried to do something like take a shot of vodka to alleviate a hangover, but I am not against the possibility that the treatment would have some benefit.

      • jeremy pereira
        Posted December 21, 2016 at 10:03 am | Permalink

        It depends how you define “benefit”. Hair of the dog can alleviate the symptoms of a hang over but only at the expense of introducing more of the poison into your body.

        • Posted December 22, 2016 at 2:53 am | Permalink

          Precisely. It alleviates symptoms. It does not cure the cause. It is also not the same principle as homeopathy, in which something DIFFERENT that gives you nausea/headache would be given to cure you – like another poison. Would you be against drinking another poison to cure a hangover?

  4. Mike
    Posted December 20, 2016 at 9:23 am | Permalink


  5. chris moffatt
    Posted December 20, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    what’s the betting that the constipation relief and the diarrhea relief tablets are one and the same? In fact I’d bet all four advertised tablets are the same. I’d bet they can also double as suppositories for hay fever if needed.

  6. chris moffatt
    Posted December 20, 2016 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    sorry one’s a liquid. misread, misread! Still, what i said.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 20, 2016 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    … their defense is ineffably lame …

    Oh, I’d say you and Orac make pretty effin’ effable just how lame the Homeopathy Institute’s defense is. 🙂

  8. Christopher Bonds
    Posted December 20, 2016 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I guess it’s human nature to want to feel we are doing something to improve our health. That’s a stronger impulse than skepticism. Our tendency to believe is stronger than that of disbelief. That’s why advertising is successful. It takes work to be a skeptic!

    I think it’s necessary to skeptical of my own skepticism. By that I mean that if I start to take pride in my ability to call bullshit when I see it, I may be blinding myself to my own gullibility in other areas.

    (A random observation: Homeopathy seems to be precisely as effective in curing disease as Christian Science.)

    • Posted December 20, 2016 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Yes, we want to feel we’re doing something…but we don’t want that something to involve much effort or be in some other way unenjoyable. Hence Dr. Oz’s miraculous weight loss pills instead of eating smart and exercising; acupuncture instead of physical therapy; homeopathy instead of going to the doctor.

  9. Jonathan Dore
    Posted December 20, 2016 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    This gives you everything you need to know about homeopathy: http://crispian-jago.blogspot.co.uk/2010/01/ladybird-book-of-homeopathic-treatment.html

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted December 20, 2016 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      So it is watered down until it does not exist. Just like religion taken straight or watered down. Both may be harmful to your health.

  10. TJR
    Posted December 20, 2016 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Homeopathic remedies may be expensive bottled water, but normal bottled water is pretty damn expensive too.

  11. Scote
    Posted December 20, 2016 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    “”Homeopathic medicines are regulated as drugs by the FDA””

    Pretty funny that they are touting FDA regulation as a drug at the exact same time they are rejecting being held to the same standards as regulated drugs, such as sound proof of efficacy.


  12. Posted December 20, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Seems like belief in God is very similar to the belief in homeopathy. Both beliefs are about unseen things affecting the natural world, but in both cases there is no evidence of this in the places we would expect to find it. Yet the beliefs persist nonetheless.

  13. rickflick
    Posted December 20, 2016 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    On the one hand it makes me want to be a pessimist that so many people are Teflon minded when it comes to such woo. On the other hand, it is great to see that when I voted for Obama it had the effect that he nominated an FTC head who managed to deliver this heavy blow for science and skepticism.

    • colnago80
      Posted December 20, 2016 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately, I rather suspect that the requirement for efficacy will be overturned by whoever is appointed head of the FDA under the dummkopf Donald incoming administration.

      • Posted December 20, 2016 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        Does he need to change the head of the FDA? I mean, is this position with a limited mandate, or is there a rule for every new administration to appoint a new head?

  14. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 20, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Great fun.
    From Orac I had learned many new details about this form of quackery that I had not known about, including that they claim that once diluted –> nonexistence, the drugs’ effects are still present in the water as ‘nanoparticles’. I admit to some confusion here since I thought they believed that water had memory, and that the drugs molecular structure was stamped into the water when it is shaken.

  15. Posted December 20, 2016 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    I have some sympathetic to those who are still dualists and hence buy chiropractic, or think that somehow the herbalist just might help. But homeopathy? What a failure of a brain that is.

  16. Posted December 20, 2016 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Always a fun way to spend 2:30 whenever a bit of homeopathy-bashing is in order: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMGIbOGu8q0. [Mitchell & Webb, Homeopathic A&E] :oD

  17. ChrisB
    Posted December 20, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    “…eye drops and suppositories.”

    They produce scientifically untested products of unknown efficacy and of unknown safety and they want me to put these products in my eyes and up my butt? No thanks.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 20, 2016 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      You could probably switch them around for all good it would do you. 🙂

  18. sandro
    Posted December 21, 2016 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Do you have any first hand experience with homeopathy. I have minimal except maybe using arnica for a bad sprain. For me it seemed to make a real difference. I dont have any more expience so cannot comment any further. If you dont have any first hand experience then this kind of opinion you give does not have weight.

    • GBJames
      Posted December 21, 2016 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      ” If you dont have any first hand experience then this kind of opinion you give does not have weight.”

      This is complete nonsense. You and I have no first hand experience with smallpox but you’ll agree with me that neither of us should want to get a case of it.

      Your comment indicates the you have pretty much no understanding of how medical treatment is determined to work or not. Personal experience is not involved.

      Do a bit of research. Look up the meaning of double blind testing and why it is used to figure out what works and what does not.

  19. Posted December 21, 2016 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    I tw**ted to both. We’ll see if I get any response.

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