Homeopathy: The London Overdose

By london_chrisc Last edited 110 months ago
Homeopathy: The London Overdose

Simon Singh risks his life for science.
On Saturday morning, a hundred scientists, skeptics and rationalists gathered in Holborn to overdose on homeopathic medicine. You won't be surprised to hear that no-one died, though most had a very pleasant sugar rush. The overdose, organised by the 10:23 Campaign, set out to prove that homeopathic tablets are nothing more than sugar pills, and that any recovery after taking homeopathy is certainly not due to the contents of the tablets.

What is homeopathic medicine? Well, consider this novel cure for insomnia: dilute some caffeine (stay with us, folks), and shake it vigourously against some leather. Next, dilute that dilution, and shake it again. Now, do that twenty-eight more times. You'll be left with 100% water; but as if by magic, the water will remember the caffeine - and the more you dilute it, the stronger the water's memory gets. Finally, drip your water onto a sugar tablet - and hey presto, you've got yourself a homeopathic remedy!

The healing power of homeopathy is pure placebo. Sadly, that hasn't stopped it becoming a multi-million pound business. The NHS spends £4 million a year on homeopathy, and Boots sell homeopathic pills alongside proper medicine, even though they admit there is no evidence to show they work. The campaign hoped to raise awareness of this, and all the protesters made sure to take Boots own-brand homeopathic tablets.

The protest had support from some prominent personalities. Simon Singh gave a rousing speech reminding the campaigners of the dangers of letting people get away with selling sugar pills as medicine; Evan Harris MP, a firm supporter of evidence-based medicine, talked about the excellent progress of parliamentary select committees in getting homeopaths to explain themselves; and Dave Gorman said that after taking his overdose of homeopathic arnica, which allegedly cure bruises and aches, he'll "never bruise again", challenging anyone to punch him to put this to the test. Never before have we seen a finer example of science in action.

Why is this campaign important?. Simply put, when people take sugar pills instead of life-saving medicine, they die. The protest was fun, but the message behind the campaign is vitally important. We mustn’t forget that tragedy can befall people who shun evidence-based medicine in favour of unproven alternatives.

With any luck, the 100% survival rates of the overdosers will go some way to showing people that homeopathic pills really are just sugar. As the campaign says, "Homeopathy: there's nothing in it."

Image by the ten23campaign

Last Updated 01 February 2010