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Creighton Home PageDangers

Home History Philosophical Basis Scientific Evaluation Placebo Effect Dangers Lessons Glossary References Creighton CAM Page

To be considered a homeopathically prepared remedy, an "active" substance must be significantly diluted with an inert substance such as alcohol or lactose.  Thus, most conventional and homeopathic physicians would agree it is unlikely that homeopathic remedies taken at their recommended doses would cause overt toxicity.  Thus, the 1982 supplement to the eighth edition of the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia states:

 "Homeopathic drugs are safe, effective and compatible with all types of medical, surgical psychological, physical and nutritional therapy."  

What then are the dangers associated with Homeopathy?  Critics, such as Steven Barrett, M.D.,  would cite the following:

Delayed Treatment:  Homeopathic preparations can be obtained over-the-counter in the U.S.   Patients may be misled into self-medication when they actually have a serious illness that requires conventional medical attention.  This is particularly a problem since these remedies are often named after the symptoms they are reputed to treat (e.g., Bleeding, Exhaustion, Earache, Pain, Bedwetting, Skin Relief, etc.).   It is quite possible that someone with any of these symptoms may be suffering from a condition that requires more than the placebo response.  
Wasted Resources:  Homeopathic treatments can be expensive.  Since many practitioners regard them as placebos, their cost and the cost of consulting a homeopathic physician could be considered wasted money.  However, one should remember that the placebo effect is real, and the patient may consider the benefits worth the cost.  This may be particularly true for the patient suffering from psychosomatic disorders, or conditions that are not easily treated by conventional medicine. 
Nocebo effect:  A logical dilemma is encountered in Homeopathy.  Proponents claim that specific diseases are treatable with homeopathy and that they are not placebos.  Thus, the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia is filled with distinct remedies that are indicated for specific conditions.  However, when the issue of possible toxicity comes up, proponents argue that these drugs are basically inert and do not negatively affect bodily processes.  Indeed, the Homeopathic Reference Manual (Natura-Bio) states:  

"In homeopathy, there is no harm in taking the wrong medicine or too much medicine."

Thus, toxicity of a homeopathic remedy would be similar to that of a placebo.  However, as any clinical drug investigator will tell you, placebos not only produce apparent benefit (placebo effect) but also produce apparent toxicity (nocebo effect).  Thus, all homeopathic remedies should be expected to produce a range of side effects similar to those produced by placebos.  This issue is generally ignored by modern proponents and there has never been a systematic study of the adverse reactions to homeopathic drugs.  Hahnemann, however, recognized this issue and stated:

"There is, however, almost no homoeopathic medicine, be it ever so suitably chosen, that, especially if it should be given in an insufficiently minute dose, will not produce, in very irritable and sensitive patients, at least one trifling, unusual disturbance, some slight new symptom while its action lasts."  (Organon, 6th edition).

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