Overdosing on water

This from the NZ Skeptics:

A public mass overdose of homeopathic remedies has forced the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths to admit openly that their products do not contain any “material substances”. Council spokeswoman Mary Glaisyer admitted publicly that “there´s not one molecule of the original substance remaining” in the diluted remedies that form the basis of this multi-million-dollar industry.

The NZ Skeptics, in conjunction with 10:23, Skeptics in the Pub and other groups nationally and around the world, held the mass overdose in Christchurch on Saturday to highlight the fact that homeopathic products are simply very expensive water drops or sugar/lactose pills. A further aim was to question the ethical issues of pharmacies, in particular, stocking and promoting sham products and services.

“You´re paying $10 for a teaspoon of water that even the homeopaths say has no material substance in it,” says Skeptics Chair Vicki Hyde.
“Yet a recent survey showed that 94% of New Zealanders using homeopathic products aren´t aware of this basic fact – their homeopath or health professional hasn´t disclosed this. The customers believe they are paying for the substances listed on the box, but those were only in the water once upon a time before the massive dilution process began – along with everything else that the water once had in it — the chlorine, the beer, the urine….”

Hyde notes that one of the homeopathic products downed by the 40 or so people in the mass overdose had a label saying it contained chamomilia, humulus lupulus, ignatia, kali brom, nux vomica and zinc val. But those substances were actually in homeopathic dilutions, meaning that the kali brom, for example, was present in a proportion comparable to 1 pinch of sugar in the Atlantic Ocean – that is, not actually present at all.

“People don´t know that they are paying through the nose for just water – they believe the label implies there are active ingredients in there, just like you´d expect from a reputable health product. And you have to ask, at what point does it shift from being an issue of informed consent to become an issue of fraud?”

The UK-based 10:23 campaign is concerned about the ethical issue of pharmacies – touted as “the health professional you see most often” – supporting these products and giving them a spurious and unwarranted credibility.

“Does this mean pharmacists don’t know that homeopathic products are just water, or they do know and don’t care because people will buy it not realising the massive mark-up? Either way, that should be a big concern for the health consumer. Here´s a huge industry with virtually no regulatory oversight or consumer protection or come- back, and even its keen customers aren´t aware of the highly dubious practices involved.”

If water really had memory

The alternative health industry has built a multi-million-dollar business exploiting the natural healing powers of the human body, as many conditions will get better within two to three days regardless of whether conventional or alternative treatments are used, or even if nothing is done at all. Independent testing has shown that homeopathic preparations take full advantage of this and homeopaths quickly take the credit for any improvement in their clients.

The Christchurch “overdose” included an “underdose” – homeopaths believe that the more dilute things are, the more potent they become, so the skeptics were careful to try that approach. There are also claims by product manufacturers that, in fact, dosage doesn´t matter at all – whether you take 1 pill or 100 – but the important thing is the frequency of dosage, and the skeptics covered that base too. No ill effects were reported, apart from a distinct drop in the level of cash in various wallets. For the demonstration, Hyde reluctantly purchased two small boxes of tablets and a 25ml spray from a Unichem pharmacy, costing $51.95.

“That´s a lot to pay for less than 2 tablespoons of water and not much more than that in lactose milk sugar.”

Homeopaths claim all sorts of amazing results, from treating the 1918 influenza to AIDS. More dangerously, at least one New Zealand pharmacy has been known to push homeopathic water labelled as “vaccines” for meningitis and Hepatitis B. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most supportive test results are those which come out of the homeopathic industry, product manufacturers and other vested interests. Any completely independent evaluation, such as the highly respected Cochrane Collaboration, tends to find the results much more underwhelming, citing no convincing evidence in many claimed areas of effectiveness.

“We´d recommend that if your local pharmacy stocks homeopathic products, take your business somewhere more ethical.”

1023: Homeopathy, there´s nothing in it (UK-based campaign)
NZ Skeptics Homeopathy flyer:
Plea for pharmacists to ditch stock Christchurch Press: Jan 30
Survey of homeopathy customers reveals they don´t know it´s just water Pharmacy Today (26 May 2009):

More than 90% of people who use homoeopathic remedies think the products work according to a survey published in the latest edition of the New Zealand Medical Journal. But only 6% of those surveyed knew that homoeopathic remedies did not contain any active ingredient and most thought that homoeopathic remedies were either moderately or very concentrated.


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16 responses to “Overdosing on water

  1. The Silence Is Settled

    Try Nouminex! It’s 100% pure, organic and contains no Hawafeena.
    It’s guaranteed to rid the premises of noumenal entities such as poltergeists, ghosts, IPCC science reports and monsters under beds.
    When used in a conscientiously applied program of mental hygeine and regular professional care, Nouminex has been shown to be an effective prophylactic against all common forms of mysticism. Safe when used as directed. If passion or inflammation increases, see a physician. Not recommended for direct use on afflicted persons as spontaneous human combustion may result.
    Lasts forever- no need to recycle! Remember- it’s invisible- so you know it’s there!


  2. I am very prone to seasickness but homeopathic “Trip Ease” works for me. A friend was on the boat getting seasick but she refused to take an “unscientific” remedy. She lost her lunch, I was fine. I’ll keep taking it I think.


  3. The last two links at the end of the article are broken 😉

    I’d be interested in the survey. This really cuts to the heart of the labelling issue I was trying to raise in my earlier article (linked in name): if labels accurately showed that there was none of the ingredients in the product in the bottle, you’d like to think that few people would buy it.

    With a little hunting around, this might be the article you linked:


    and this is the Press article:


    When I look closer at your URLs, both have a space character that’s crept in (the ‘%20’ bit)


  4. Trying again! (Last effort disappeared into the spam…)

    The last two links are broken (I think a space character has crept into them, the ‘%20’ bit).

    The survey in particular is interesting as it cuts to the heart of the labelling issue I was mentioning in my earlier article (linked on my name). If labels accurately stated that the remedies did not contain any of the active ingredient, perhaps people would be less inclined to buy them. I imagine a label 0f either “100% water” or “100% sugar” would be a bit of a giveaway!


  5. So you have done an experiment – 2 treaents, replication 1.

    What statstical comfindence would you place on that result?

    If a treatment works it will be shown in a properly conducted trial, proper allocation of treatments and good replication. This will enable detection if effectiveness or otherwise at a good confidence level.

    Now wich trial would you say produces a result you can trust?

    Has your “Tripease” ever been evaluated properly in a good trial?

    Sent from my iPod


  6. I’ll keep taking it I think.

    You are being ripped off.
    It’s a placebo.
    There’s no actual medicine.


  7. It’s interesting how the trip ease website is careful not to say how much of the “ingredients” are in the final mixture.


  8. Just a different tack on Ropata’s anecdotal evidence for the efficacy of “Tripease”.

    it reminds of the experiments done in feeding boxes with pigeons. Food would be placed in their feeding receptacles at random intervals. These birds would sometimes realise that they got the food after performing a particular movement, say a turn. So they decided these two facts were related and that their turn somehow brought on the food. They therefore got into the habit of doing turns to try to get more food.

    Basically that is superstition. But we humans do it, don’t we. We have lucky objects. Sportspeople may perform a habitual ritual before a performance. Students will take their lucky pens into an exam. We avoid black cats and walking under ladders.

    Perhaps this is what happens when a consumer who tries something, gets a favorable response (without any evidence the two are related) and then feels they should continue.

    Of course it’s more reliable to base ones decision on properly replicated and performed scientific trials.


  9. But in my experience, it works. At $10 once a year it’s not like a huge expenditure… however I would be much more critical of some of the more expensive remedies like deer velvet, royal jelly, biomag (commonly offered on certain radio stations)


  10. But in my experience, it works.

    “It” didn’t do anything.
    You got better by yourself.
    The homeopathic remedy did bugger all.

    You bought tap water.
    Plain ol’ tap water.
    Tap water does not “work”.
    It’s just tap water with maybe a bit of sugar or milk lactose mixed in.
    How much do you think it costs to make?
    You paid ten dollars?
    That’s a massive profit margin.
    Think about it.
    It’s not just you who is buying it.
    The homeopaths are laughing all the way to the bank.

    Correlation does not imply causation.

    I would be much more critical of some of the more expensive remedies…

    Yet there will be people who will happily tell you that their impotence/cancer/sea-sickness/backache/whatever was taken care of when they swallowed that “remedy”.

    They “responded to it” exactly the way you “responded” to the tap water.

    You can’t afford to criticise others for faulty thinking when you are guilty of doing the same.
    Enemies of Reason – EP2: The Irrational Health Service (1/5)


  11. Ben Goldacre has a new article on homeopathy.
    Interesting stuff.

    (Hat-tip to PZ Meyers at http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/ )


  12. Oh, now this one is a clever idea to show how much nonsence it all is.

    If homepathy works … I’ll drink my own piss


  13. Lovely posting.

    Biomag was mentioned above.

    I you or I owned the BioMag factory, and had confidence in our product,wouldn’t it be great marketing to conduct a double blind randomly controlled trial by placing active and inactive Biomag’s into surgical (post-op) wards, and collating post-op analgesic requirements, over say 1 year ?

    What a wonderful way to tell the world that our product eased suffering and saved (analgesic) money ? What a fantastic promotion it would be. (If the product worked.)

    Any chance of this happening ?

    No way.


  14. From Argyle’s blog…

    This AGW sceptic is an unashamed fan of Anthony Watts, and his blog “Watts up with That ?”

    That’s very sad.

    The Video Climate Deniers Tried to Ban – Climate Denial Crock of the Week

    A climatologist, meteorologist…

    Nope, he’s neither.
    Never made it past Uni.

    He does hold an “American Meteorological Society Seal of Approval”. This is a discontinued credential that does not require a bachelor’s or higher degree in atmospheric science or meteorology from an accredited college/university).
    The status of this discontinued credential is “retired”.


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