Sci Snippet – How are homeopathetic “drugs” made?

I was inspired by SciBabe (FB page here) who is all about debunking pseudoscience and raging against the idiocracy of everything from anti-vaxxers to homeopathic remedies. She has eaten a “lethal dose” of homeopathic pills (video here) in an effort to prove that there are no active ingredients in these sugar pills to actually kill you.


By Wikidudeman (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s look at the “science” of how homeopathic drugs are made (read so much more about this in the fabulous book “Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks” by Ben Goldacre). A German doctor named Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700s decided that a substance that induced the same symptoms in a healthy person as a patient with a disease could be used to treat the disease.  No joke. This is how the theory of “like cures like” and homeopathy was born.  However, you can’t just provide the chemicals or herbs that cause these symptoms directly because this could have genuine negative effects, so you have to dilute or “potentize” the substance to make it effective.  This is done through homeopathic dilutions – and according to homeopathy, the more dilute the more powerful it becomes.  How exactly does this work? You can’t just dilute like you might normally dilute substances, you have to use a process called “succession.”  Take the substance, dilute it 1:100 in water or alcohol in a glass vessel, and shake it by ten firm strikes with a “hard but elastic object.”  What is this object?  Originally is was a wooden board covered in leather and filled with horsehair and now it can be fancy robotic machines in homeopathic medicine factories.  This is repeated at least 30 times.  At the end of this, the substance is diluted 1 to 1 followed by 60 zeros – no molecules of the original substance are left.  Then this dilution may be dehydrated into a sugar pill for ingestion.  Therefore, homeopathic remedies are essentially sugar pills. So why do some people think that homeopathy works? The placebo effect – a patient psychologically expects the drug to work so it has a positive effect.

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  1. Pingback: Book Club: Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks - Things I Tell My MomThings I Tell My Mom

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