Respectful Insolence

A brief, diluted homeopathic interlude

I was out late last night due to the call of duty. By the time I got home, it was too late, and I was too beat to provide you with the heapin’ helpin’ of Insolence, Respectful or not-so-Respectful, that I usually do. Nor did I have time to draft a substantive reply to Dr. Zilberberg, who is in the comments and apparently very unhappy that I criticized her for her tendency towards dualism and her repeating various things that sound similar to some of the favorite gambits of the anti-vaccine movement. I had basically had the temerity to suggest to Dr. Zilberberg that, if she doesn’t want to be perceived as anti-vaccine, it might be a good idea for her to familiarize herself with anti-vaccine rhetoric and then use that knowledge to learn how to avoid saying things that sound anti-vaccine. Surprisingly, she didn’t take my suggestion well. In any case, I’ll get around to answering her again eventually. Probably.

In the meantime, here’s a story that’s both disturbing and hilarious at the same time. Apparently there are counterfeiters who are making fake homeopathic drugs:

We have a bad news for the vast majority of our people who often take recourse to homeopathy treatment for illness. Taking advantage of widespread use of homeopathy drugs, a section of unscrupulous traders is engaged in faking those products endangering health of patients.

The faking of homeopathy drugs, a common act of deception, came to the fore when early last week a team of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) raided a factory at Babubazar area in old Dhaka city which was producing spurious remedies. The RAB arrested five people from the spot who were found engaged in making fake medicines. About 1200 litres of rectified spirit, 18 drums containing ethanol, a highly concentrated alcohol, were seized. The RAB team also recovered huge quantity of labels of various foreign and local brands of homeopathy medicines. The arrested workers of the factory, owned by one Hero Kamal who managed to escape, were pasting those labels on the bottles.

The story is also reported here.

My question, of course, is that if these were really homeopathic medications, how on earth would anyone be able to tell the difference between the counterfeit versions and the real versions? Of course, the ethanol is sometimes used instead of water to dilute homeopathic remedies. (I wonder why homeopaths never explain the memory of ethanol?) In any case, what this whole operation sounds like is a moonshine operation more than a fake medicine operation. On the other hand, I suppose people could use these spirits, if they properly dilute them, to get drunk, assuming they aren’t adulterated with methanol.

As much as we laugh at the inherent ridiculousness of homeopathy, in which most remedies are diluted to the point that it is exceedingly unlikely that even a single molecule of active ingredient remains, it is, however, important to remember that not all homeopathic are inert or harmless. For instance, just this weekend, the FDA issued a warning about Hyland’s Teething Tablets:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today is warning consumers that Hyland’s Teething Tablets may pose a risk to children. The FDA recommends that consumers not use this product and dispose of any in their possession. The manufacturer is issuing a recall of this product.

Hyland’s Teething Tablets are manufactured to contain a small amount of belladonna, a substance that can cause serious harm at larger doses. For such a product, it is important that the amount of belladonna be carefully controlled. FDA laboratory analysis, however, has found that Hyland’s Teething Tablets contain inconsistent amounts of belladonna. In addition, the FDA has received reports of serious adverse events in children taking this product that are consistent with belladonna toxicity. The FDA has also received reports of children who consumed more tablets than recommended, because the containers do not have child resistant caps.

Hyland’s Teething Tablets are one of the “weaker” homeopathic remedies in that it is only 3X. An “X” dilution is only 1:10; so a 3X dilution is a 1:1000 dilution. Clearly, it’s quite possible to have active remedy left after only a 1:1000 dilution. In the Bizarro World of Homeopathy, it’s actually the “weaker” homeopathic dilutions (such as 3X) that you have to be more careful with. It’s such “weak” homeopathic dilutions that might contain actual active drug.

Comments

  1. #1 René Najera
    October 28, 2010

    That would make a great challenge to homeopaths… Put a fake homeopathic remedy on one side and a real on the other, and have the homeopath tell them apart.

    Of course, you’d have to do this quite a few times because a 50/50 shot along guarantees some hits on chance.

  2. #2 steve
    October 28, 2010

    Thanks, Orac. I was in a bad mood, and now I have had a great belly laugh. Now my coworkers are wondering if I have finally lost it…

    diluted/deluded

  3. #3 Coryat
    October 28, 2010

    Belladonna? Why does it (sort of) have that in it?

  4. #4 MikeMa
    October 28, 2010

    Wow. A counterfeit of a fake.

    The disturbing upshot is that there is a significant enough market for this crap to warrant the setting up of this factory. A very sad state of affairs. It also points out that there are homeopathic brands worth counterfeiting. I never knew. I would have thought just making and selling sugar pills under some made-up brand would be every bit as profitable without the attendant risk of actually being illegal.

  5. #5 DaveD
    October 28, 2010

    Lower dilutions, like 1X, are not at all uncommon. I don’t think I have it any more, but at one point, I had a tube of Arnica 1X cream, which is supposed to be useful for sore muscles.

  6. #6 FreeSpeaker
    October 28, 2010

    Th emanagement at Poland Spring Water better get themselves lawyers.

    Heck, I do it every time I turn on the tap water. I AM GUILTY!

    I just love the name Rapid Action Battalion! Were they armed with sponges or Bounty, The Quicker Picker Upper?

  7. #7 Todd W.
    October 28, 2010

    Hey, if the makers of Zicam and Hyland’s can get away with making fake homeopathic products, why can’t others?

  8. #8 WhatPaleBlueDot
    October 28, 2010

    Coryat, belladonna is an antispasmodic and a pain reliever. My husband was briefly on it for GI issues. But in naturopathic, it has multiple “uses.”

  9. #9 Denice Walter
    October 28, 2010

    While we’re on the topic of high dilutions and strong delusions: today Mike Adams ( @ NaturalNews) takes on placebos ( ironic, *n’est-ce pas* ?) in SBM – nature boy argues that the “inert” pills aren’t really inert after all because they contain “sugar”, which is “bad for you”, and olive oil, which is “good for you”. This “fact” invalidates all of SB research. He also takes aim at sceptics because they don’t criticize BigPharma. Heh.

  10. #10 Calli Arcale
    October 28, 2010

    Atropine (the active chemical in belladonna) is an anticholinergic drug, which would be indeed useful for controlling spasms and for certain GI problems. It blocks acetylcholine, a very important neurotransmitter in the autonomic nervous system and central nervous system. It’s used to treat certain types of heart failure (not ischemia, which it will worsen), and though it’s off-label, sometimes to treat excessive sweating as it will inhibit production of sweat, spit, mucus, etc. It can also be used to help keep a person alive during treatment for certain types of poisoning. The most common use, however, is to dilate the pupils of the eye for examination by an ophthalmologist. (Shades of its ancient cosmetic use, there.)

    Wikipedia did not list its use as a pain reliever; however, in ancient times, the plants in which it is found have been used successfully as an anesthetic and/or sedative. (Mandrake is especially famous for this — wine of mandrake was a sleeping potion used by surgeons in ancient times.)

    It’s a real drug, and a very potent one with many uses. But it’s so potent than one must be careful with it. I’m shocked it would be used as a teething pain reliever; there are safer alternatives.

  11. #11 jaranath
    October 28, 2010

    Holy CRAP. Homeopaths, with their absence of regulatory oversight, selling belladonna products for use in infants?

    Dare I ask whether they were True Believers, convinced that it was safer for the kids at low dilutions?

  12. #12 Daniel J. Andrews
    October 28, 2010

    Belladonna for infants!? That is scary, and it also should remind people who gulp down the entire bottle of homeopathic remedies (in order to show the ‘medicine’ is only water/inert material) to check the concentration before they do so. They could poison themselves on a “weak” dose.

    Why use ethanol to make fake homeopathic remedies? Tap water would be cheaper and easier to get. Lily the Pink strikes again?

    Incidentally, this is a good example of where two wrongs don’t make a right. I.e. A faked fake treatment does not a good treatment make.

  13. #13 Todd W.
    October 28, 2010

    In many people’s minds, homeopathy = natural = safe. The fact that most homeopathic products have nothing active in them, and thus produce no side effects, coupled with their use for self-limiting conditions and you have an instant hit reinforcing that opinion.

    As to belladonna for kiddies, when I wrote about the Hyland’s tablets, I did a quick look about for some research on its use for teething or use in infants. All I came across was a small case series examining belladonna toxicity in belladonna drops used to treat colic in infants. No safety or efficacy data to be found, other than that.

  14. #14 Mu
    October 28, 2010

    I can see this go funny in the court room.
    “Your honor, the defendant sold pure water as fake homeopathic remedy”
    “Objection, the product is indistinguishable from the original, as such it’s a true copy, not a fake”
    “Sustained”

  15. #15 Denice Walter
    October 28, 2010

    I find homeopathy to be a shibboleth of sorts : if someone mentions it in conversation, if an alt med provider lists it as an option, or if a product is so labelled, you instantly know a great deal about the source’s sympathies, basic understanding of the universe, and problem solving ability. Perhaps it can be used to differentiate alt med gatecrashers from regulars at SBM /sceptic secret meetings in bars : guy at door: ” Homeopathy – yes or no?”

  16. #16 Sarah
    October 28, 2010

    @Coryat: Belladona is also known by the name “deadly nightshade” and it’s a fairly dangerous poisonous plant – one of the most potent poisonous plants in the Western hemisphere. The drug atropine is derived from it. It’s so poisonous that as few as two berries can kill a child. Definitely not something you want to play around with, especially when infants are involved.

  17. #17 Scott
    October 28, 2010

    Why use ethanol to make fake homeopathic remedies? Tap water would be cheaper and easier to get. Lily the Pink strikes again?

    The cynic in me notes that ethanol is often more effective than water at making people feel better (or at least not care as much).

  18. #18 Anthro
    October 28, 2010

    It is TEETHING that is “natural”–why “treat” it at all? Check with your doc/pediatrician if it’s really bad. When I was a very young Mom, I rubbed a bit of whiskey on my oldest child’s gums. She seems all right at 41.

    I saw ossoscillium (sp?) the other day selling for $30! I always make a point to ask the pharmacist, in a loud voice, how he/she can bring himself to work in a place that pushes this crap. Sometimes (s)he apologizes, sometimes shrugs, and occasionally blushes. I think I’ll ask for some belladonna next time I go there.

  19. #19 Max
    October 28, 2010

    Sorry for posting off-topic, but I didn’t find a direct contact link and I thought you might be interested in this.

    Remember the vaccine settlement for the family w. the daughter w. the autism like symptoms?:

    http://www.autism-blog.com/65-autistic-children-found-have-mitochondrial-disorder

  20. #20 Just Sayin'
    October 28, 2010

    Apparently there are counterfeiters who are making fake homeopathic drugs:

    I’ll bet they used dihydrogen monoxide in place of water!

    Reminds me of the law in Michigan (I think) which makes it illegal to pretend to be a psychic.

  21. #21 jre
    October 28, 2010

    A little while back, I stumbled upon some of the FDA’s enforcement letters regarding homeopathic remedies. Because homeopathy was grandfathered into the Pure Food and Drug Act by a fan in Congress, FDA is required by regulation to inspect facilities to make sure they really follow Hahnemann’s rules. In other words, if a 20C homeopathic remedy actually contains any active ingredient, it is considered “adulterated” and must be pulled from the market. If it is pure water, however, it passes regulatory scrutiny. Such is the world we live in.

    Denice’s paraphrasal of Mike Adams’ comment that placebos

    contain “sugar”, which is “bad for you”, and olive oil, which is “good for you”

    put me in mind of something once said by the late Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham:

    My drink is the screwdriver. It’s made of vodka, which is bad for your kidneys, and orange juice, which is good for your kidneys. So it’s like drinking water that makes you feel good.

  22. #22 MikeHypercube
    October 28, 2010

    I think this question goes to the heart of a significant difference between religion and a more rational world view.

    I had an interesting chat with some great Catholic thinkers the other day, who explained that the difference in our moral positions is that they look at the act in itself as being right or wrong, and we Humanists look at the consequences. I think there is a parallel here with how homeopathy (the med equivalent of religion) works, in that it assumes the liquid or tablets to have some properties in and of themselves, without reference to whether those innate properties have measurable outcomes such as would be used to distinguish real from false homeopathic preparations. That is, it is the innate nature of the material that is compromised, not anything to do with its measurable chemical composition.

    This implies of course that to understand homeopathy you have to treat it as a religion (and you have to understand religion), an interesting implication which I stand by. Religion places blind faith in the nature of things in and of themselves, and as prepared, affected, blessed etc. by authoritative figures in a given belief system (who themselves believe it).

  23. #23 Todd W.
    October 28, 2010

    @jre

    Because homeopathy was grandfathered into the Pure Food and Drug Act by a fan in Congress, FDA is required by regulation to inspect facilities to make sure they really follow Hahnemann’s rules.

    Yeah. We can’t even blame DSHEA for that one. There needs to be a push to get Congress to revamp the regulations so that homeopathic drugs (and they are classified as drugs) are subject to the same regulations and requirements of non-homeopathic drugs.

    And I love the quote.

  24. #24 Ana Observer
    October 28, 2010

    JRE, you’re now my favorite scienceblogs commenter. Johnny Cunningham FTW!

  25. #25 Phoenix Woman
    October 28, 2010

    My favorite homeopathy scam involves products labeled as “homeopathic” that actually are efficaceous in treating things, but not for homeopathic reasons.

    Case in point: Nelsons Acne Gel, which has tea tree oil among its “inert” ingredients. Tea tree oil is of course scientifically proven antibacterial agent, which means it works wonderfully against the root cause of acne.

  26. #26 Phoenix Woman
    October 28, 2010

    Arrgh, hit “post” too soon. Anyway, here’s a PubMed link to a 1980 study comparing tea tree oil to benzoyl peroxide as an acne treatment: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2145499

  27. #27 Old Rockin' Dave
    October 28, 2010

    Fake homeopathic remedies? Wouldn’t that mean they actually do something?

  28. #28 Todd W.
    October 28, 2010

    @Phoenix Woman

    I would hazard an assertion, then, that Nelsons Acne Gel is adulterated with a drug. Hey, FDA issues warning letters/recalls all the time for “male enhancement” products and other supplements that contain actual drugs; why not acne gel?

  29. #29 Jarred C
    October 28, 2010

    Mike Hypercube @#22 said:

    I had an interesting chat with some great Catholic thinkers the other day, who explained that the difference in our moral positions is that they look at the act in itself as being right or wrong, and we Humanists look at the consequences.

    I find this juxtapose interesting. I was raised Catholic; my entire family was heavily Catholic, including an uncle in the seminary, and my best childhood friend became a monk. I was even heavily involved in many church activities.

    From all that time, the greatest lesson my priest taught me was “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” He would always tell us young-uns that you can’t judge an act by it’s actions, but that you always have to take into consideration the consequences. It didn’t matter that you simply meant well, but that the consequences (foreseen and unseen) are just as important.

    Either my priest was way out of line concerning the church, or the standards of the church have changed a lot in 20 years.

    Either way, those guys you talked to seem like idiots.

  30. #30 Calli Arcale
    October 28, 2010

    Todd — I bet they can get away with it if they say it’s there as fragrance or coloring or to achieve the right texture. Heck, moisturizers get listed as inactive ingredients in acne treatments all the time, even though they clearly do something helpful.

    I have a bottle of Tums on my desk. Rather hilariously, I note that calcium carbonate (the active ingredient) is also listed in the inactive ingredients.

  31. #31 Seb30
    October 28, 2010

    From Mike Adams via Denice

    nature boy argues that the “inert” pills aren’t really inert after all

    If both placebo and drug pills are made of the same stuff (plus the tested drug in the real pill), in what is this a problem? We still end up looking at the effect of the new drug compared to something which have everything but this drug.
    Well, if the pills were made of cyanide, I would understand, but sugar?

    because they contain “sugar”, which is “bad for you”, and olive oil, which is “good for you”.

    Really? Compared to the amount of sugar we get everyday from food, a little pill is going to make a difference?
    Oh, I forgot, alt-meds see no problem with eating 150 pills a day, as long as it’s full of “natural” stuff.

  32. #32 Sigivald
    October 28, 2010

    Depleted Cranium covered this a while back.

    The ethanol thing is thought to be a tax dodge, to sell liquor without the liquor taxes.

    And the illegal part of selling “fake homeopathic medicine” is the trademark violation; they’re not selling a “homeopathic medicine” that isn’t really homeopathic – they’re selling Brand X “homeopathic medicine” that isn’t really Brand X.

    Just as if I sell real aspirin with Bayer’s name on it, I’d be violating the law, they’re doing so by deceiving customers as to which snake oil they’re actually buying.

    Even people buying water disguised as medicine deserve to get the brand name they think they’re paying for.

  33. #33 Paul
    October 28, 2010

    The belladonna in the homeopathic remedies isn’t there for any real “medicinal” reason. If you remember your basic homeopathy, the theory is “like cures like” – thus, belladonna, which causes symptoms of dry mouth, constipation, flushing, fever, headache and swelling, could, according to a homeopath, be used to treat such symptoms. It’s commonly used as part of a teething remedy in infants.

  34. #34 Art
    October 28, 2010

    I never understood how anyone could buy the homeopathic claims of increasing dilution increasing strength. That would mean pure water, uncontaminated by anything, would be an infinitely strong compounding of every ingredient. The ultimate cure-all would be ‘drink a liter of distilled water and call me in the morning’.

    Given that adequate hydration is good and many people are running a little dry they may be onto something. Just not in the way they think.

  35. #35 stripey_cat
    October 28, 2010

    Does anyone know how much atropine you’d be likely to extract from a mg of belladonna? 3X is going to be a mg of starting ingredient per gram of remedy (and I guess the doses are probably smaller than 1g each); I was wondering if the medically active dose is a result of poor formulation (ie a supplier getting something wrong), or actually a feature of the product properly made. If the latter, it’s terrifying – like bringing back kaolin and morphine for infant colic.

  36. #36 jre
    October 28, 2010

    Aw, thanks, Ana. Silly Wizard does, in fact, still rule.

    And Art — you are hot on the trail of Dr. Boli.

  37. #37 Art
    October 28, 2010

    I was watching a show on PBS about the wall dividing Berlin and how its presence, and now its fall, has affected people. They went to a homeopathic pharmacy where they make homeopathic remedy that is a dilution of the Berlin wall. Yup, take a bit of the wall, grind it up, add water and shake. Then add more water and shake. Repeat and drop the liquid onto a sugar pill. Package the pills and sell them.

    Wall in a bottle. Not to be confused with the Beatles conceptually useful “hole in me pocket”.

    Anyway they handed a bottle of the wall pills to a ‘sensitive’ who claimed it gave her the feeling of oppression and coldness. One wonders what she would have said if you handed her a bottle of liver pills and just told her they were infused with the essence of the Berlin wall. Would she detect oppressive feelings or would her liver feel better.

    Evidently the essence of wall pills are fairly popular, they were making a scad of them, but I’m unclear on exactly what a radically diluted solution of the Berlin wall is supposed to treat. A dietary shortage of concrete? Not getting your minimum daily requirement of stifling oppression? I thought mothers-in-laws had that covered.

    I hear there is a homeopathic solution of uranium. If you dilute it to much does it blow up? That would make arms control much harder. One atom of U-238 and a truckload of pure water, shaken-not-stirred, and BOOM. We must keep this secret.

  38. #38 NZ Sceptic
    October 28, 2010

    I hope Orac doesn’t mind but I’m re-posting something I left on an entirely unrelated thread the other day. I knew I should have waited for an appropriate place for it:

    My nine-year-old just used her math skills to good effect while we were waiting for some photo prints at our local pharmacy.

    I picked up a 10ml bottle of homeopathic Rescue Remedy and after explaining its supposed magic qualities, and seeing her eyes widen in puzzlement and disbelief when I got to the bit about shaking the water and all that weird stuff they do with a leather-bound book, I asked her to work out the price per litre: $2700!

    “Are some grown-ups really stupid enough to pay that much for some shaken bottled water?’ she asked.

    I can’t for the life of me understand how a science-trained pharmacist can bring himself to have that crazy stuff on his shop shelves, but isn’t it great to see a good little sceptic in the making?

  39. #39 Scott
    October 28, 2010

    I never understood how anyone could buy the homeopathic claims of increasing dilution increasing strength. That would mean pure water, uncontaminated by anything, would be an infinitely strong compounding of every ingredient.

    Well, they do have an explanation for that – the oh-so-crucial “succussion” which everybody who isn’t trying to make sound magical just calls shaking.

  40. #40 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmqD_mcUIrSfOTlK3iGVsnEDcZmI43srbI
    October 28, 2010

    I can’t for the life of me understand how a science-trained pharmacist can bring himself to have that crazy stuff on his shop shelves

    $2700 per liter.

    I think you answered your own question.

  41. #41 W. Kevin Vicklund
    October 28, 2010

    @stripey_cat:

    Here’s some basic facts to start with:

    A single berry is about 1 gram (same size as a medium blueberry, which is ~140 berries per cup and 140 grams per cup)

    10-20 berries are lethal for adults (2-5 for children)

    10-20 mg atropine is incapacitating for adults

    LD50 for atropine is about 450 mg for adults

    So we start out with 30 mg atropine per gram of berry. But that concentration may increase, because the berry doesn’t have the highest concentration.

    If we assume that a single dose is a 3X dilution of one berry, that means that could be as high as 1/45 of the dose necessary for incapacitation in children. Long-term exposure might very well be enough to cause symptoms of atropine poisoning.

    All very convincing, yes?

    However, I was able to find what they claim as their atropine content: 0.0002 mg, which is 1/150th of the dose I calculated earlier, and about 0.01% of the incapacitating dose. So while it’s still possible that these symptoms are resulting from following correct manufacturing processes, I’d put my money on a manufacturing error. Much like the screw-up at Gary Null’s all-natural supplier of Vitamin D.

  42. #42 Jarred C
    October 28, 2010

    Art,

    Obviously, it’s used to treat oppression. They can sell it to oppressed citizens around the world to help them overthrow their government.

  43. #43 LovleAnjel
    October 28, 2010

    @29

    I’m guessing the discussion was about specific acts, like non-reproductive sex acts or taking birth control pills. There are certain things that are Catholic verboten, regardless of consequences. The other stuff, consequences matter.

  44. #44 Denice Walter
    October 28, 2010

    @ Seb30 : You see, Mike has *no* problem with marketting or endorsing *actual* placebos as treatments ( accupuncture, homeopathy, or any non-SBM treatment) but has problems comprehending the concept of *placebo* itself. And of course to him, sugar in *any* amount is absolutely evil. I sometimes wonder if paradoxically, because of their beliefs in homopathy, many alt med mavens fear minuscule amounts of toxins or contaminants even more .

  45. #45 Mojo
    October 28, 2010

    The RAB team also recovered huge quantity of labels of various foreign and local brands of homeopathy medicines. The arrested workers of the factory, owned by one Hero Kamal who managed to escape, were pasting those labels on the bottles.

    Check out the concept of “paper remedies” which some homoeopaths claim can be produced by writing the name and dilution of the remedy on a piece of paper and putting it under a glass of water which is then given to the patient. I’m sure sticking labels on bottles would work just as well.

  46. #46 Matthew Cline
    October 28, 2010

    My question, of course, is that if these were really homeopathic medications, how on earth would anyone be able to tell the difference between the counterfeit versions and the real versions?

    I’d guess that they had a machine which directly put the ethanol into bottles, without dilution or succession, and that machine fed into a machine which applied the labels to the bottles.

  47. #47 DLC
    October 28, 2010

    Uh… so it was a fake homeopathic solution because they didn’t wave a single molecule of whatever it was over the alcohol or water or whatever?

  48. #48 Jenn
    October 28, 2010

    As the welt on my arm and the unceasing itching tell me, 1:1000 (the current strength of my allergy immunotherapy shots) is not a concentration to sneeze at.

  49. #49 Matthew Cline
    October 28, 2010

    Check out the concept of “paper remedies” which some homoeopaths claim can be produced by writing the name and dilution of the remedy on a piece of paper and putting it under a glass of water which is then given to the patient.

    Heck, if you can do that, why not just print out a form which says “Substance which, when diluted and successed, will cure patient _______”, fill in the blank, and then put it under the glass of water? No need to get a degree in homeopathy to figure out which substances to use, the paper does it!

  50. #50 Oscar Zoalaster
    October 29, 2010
  51. #51 W. Kevin Vicklund
    October 29, 2010

    An update to my previous post.

    While atropine is the medicinal poison in belladonna, there is another poison in other nightshades called solanine, which is even more lethal. It is quite possible that they might be using nightshades other than belladonna as their source, which could drastically increase the apparent dosage.

  52. #52 marcushill
    October 29, 2010

    I’ve often wondered why nobody has tried to market some sort of “bargain” homeopathic type “medicine” – you could market it as something like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Homeopathy!” and charge half the price of “real” homeopathic “treatments”. As long as you used purified water (rather than plain tap water) or just used pure sugar pills, you could then bottle it up and honestly write on the label that you guarantee your product is chemically indistinguishable from homeopathic remedy X, which is “used to treat” these twenty three conditions… None of this would be a lie, so any sucker buying it would get exactly what they paid for.

    I know that we don’t do this on account of having scruples, I’m just surprised nobody with a less functional moral compass has tried it.

  53. #53 evil monkey
    October 29, 2010

    a section of unscrupulous traders is engaged in faking those products endangering health of patients.

    Is it just me, or is it hilarious that there’s no comma between “products” and “endangering”.

    Try it on for size. The original article’s sentence, versus:

    a section of unscrupulous traders is engaged in faking those products, endangering health of patients.

    Grammar are funny! :P

  54. #54 sophia8
    October 29, 2010

    Why use ethanol to make fake homeopathic remedies? Tap water would be cheaper and easier to get. Lily the Pink strikes again?

    Some homeopathic medicines have alcohol added as a “preservative” (pause to remove liquid from keyboard). Of course the actual amount of alcohol in each bottle is minute, in order to escape regulations on selling booze – you’d probably have to drink a couple of gallons of the stuff all at once to even get a buzz.
    In this particular case, maybe the fakers *were* selling moonshine disguised as medicine. What better way to get customers coming back for more?

  55. #55 Coryat
    October 29, 2010

    Thanks for the info on the belladonna Calli, WhatPalebluedot and anyone else I might have missed. I’d always known it as dangerous stuff, which is why I was suprised they used it in their homeopathetic products. Good to see it does have proper medical uses as well when applied correctly.

  56. #56 MikeMa
    October 29, 2010

    @W. Kevin Vicklund
    Rather than the wrong poison, wouldn’t it be more likely that the manufacturer is crap? Poor manufacturing processes, coupled with a little greed (or nonchalance) might easily result in lousy quality control.

    Didn’t we have some near fatal vitamin D powder drinks in the news recently?

  57. #57 sophia8
    October 29, 2010

    Max@19: Read the details of the research paper cut-and-pasted into the article. It was a retrospective study of 37 children who had already been assessed for mitochondrial disorder (which means that at least some of them probably had symptoms of something besides autism); 24 of those children were found to have ‘mito’.
    Mitochondrial disorders and autism are two different conditions; some of the symptoms of ‘mito’ are similar to autism. And of course, it’s perfectly possible for an autistic person to ALSO have ‘mito’.
    For those who want to read the whole paper, look for Oxidative Phosphorylation (OXPHOS) Defects in Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders [IN1-1.004] by John Shoffner, Lauren C. Hyams, Genevieve N. Langle

  58. #58 W. Kevin Vicklund
    October 29, 2010

    Rather than the wrong poison, wouldn’t it be more likely that the manufacturer is crap? Poor manufacturing processes, coupled with a little greed (or nonchalance) might easily result in lousy quality control.

    MikeMa, my previous comment, at 41, dealt with that, including mentioning Gary Null’s unfortunate discovery that naturopathic manufacturers aren’t as reliable as normal manufacturers. My comment at 51 was just adding another possibility (which I’d still classify as a manufacturin defect, by the way).

  59. #59 NZ Sceptic
    October 30, 2010

    Well it’s official. It seems the cure – or at least the most effective treatment for cancer has at last been found: Homeopathic Scorpion Venom

    http://www.escambray.cu/Eng/science/scorpionvenom101026856

    There’s a hilarious discussion amongst homeopaths about the Cuban ‘discovery’ here:

    http://www.homeopathyworldcommunity.com/forum/topics/cancer-medicine-from-scorpion

    I guess oncologists, and others in cancer treatment and research will now be redundant. Go on Orac, time to hang up your scrubs and hit the golf course!

  60. #60 T. Bruce McNeely
    October 30, 2010

    Of course the actual amount of alcohol in each bottle is minute, in order to escape regulations on selling booze – you’d probably have to drink a couple of gallons of the stuff all at once to even get a buzz.

    But this is homeopathic alcohol, so a drop of it would get you trashed.

    Does this mean that “succussing” a bottle of O’Doul’s will turn it into Everclear?

  61. #61 Anon
    October 31, 2010

    Thanks, Orac. Here’s some woo:

    “The suits are filed under a federal law originally intended to stop Civil War hucksters from selling rancid meat to the Union Army by paying bounties to tipsters…Health care cases accounted for some 80 percent of the $3.1 billion recovered by the Justice Department under the false claims act last year.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/27/business/27drug.html?scp=5&sq=drugs&st=cse

  62. #62 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    October 31, 2010

    @Anon – I’m afraid that doesn’t rise to the level of woo; it’s simply graft and deplorable business practices.

  63. #63 Anon
    October 31, 2010

    sorry, must have a different definition of woo. what is woo to you?

  64. #64 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    October 31, 2010

    The definition I use is “ideas based on extremely flimsy evidence and ideas based in occult forces”.

    Thus “fortune telling” would be woo. Homeopathy and many “alternative medicines” can be considered woo if they are held to despite lack of evidence that they work or in the face of evidence that they don’t. Any real belief in magic would be woo.

    Something proposed as a hypothesis based on flimsy preliminary evidence is not woo, as long as there is some chance that further observation might support it. That same idea after being repeatedly shown to be false would start to approach woo status.

    A company ignoring “good manufacturing principles” and cutting corners in order to save a buck (despite potentially putting the public at risk) would typically not be considered woo.

  65. #65 Anon
    October 31, 2010

    Thanks Mephistopheles.

    So something “can be considered woo if they are held to despite lack of evidence that they work.”

    From the article,

    “GlaxoSmithKline…agreed…to settle criminal and civil complaints that the company for years knowingly sold…an ineffective antidepressant,”

    by your definition, this “rises to the level of woo.”

    Thank you for clarifying.

  66. #66 LW
    October 31, 2010

    Not so. If GSK acted “knowingly” in selling an ineffective antidepressant, then they were not adhering to a belief despite lack of evidence. The claim is that they didn’t believe it worked; indeed, that they knew it did not work, but sold it anyway.

  67. #67 Anon
    October 31, 2010

    By selling the belief that antidepressants worked despite lack of evidence is what objective people call, “snake-oil salesmanship” or in other circles, “quackery.”

    Get a grip and stop lying to yourself.

  68. #68 LW
    October 31, 2010

    “Get a grip and stop lying to yourself.”

    What an odd thing to say. We’re discussing the meaning of a specific word: “woo”. I (and I think also Mephistopheles) consider the meaning of the word to be focused on unfounded or even disproven beliefs, and therefore not to be relevant to a case of fraud and negligent manufacturing. You appear to disagree, which is fine, but it’s rather silly to suggest that we need to “get a grip” with respect to a word definition!

    I’m guessing that you are focused on the sale of antidepressants at all, since it seems probable that they are over-prescribed, and that people have been led to believe that they would work for any depressed person, whereas in fact they might work only in the severely depressed. But that is not what is discussed in the link that you gave, which discusses the sale of tainted and contaminated drugs, and antidepressants that were ineffective because they were poorly manufactured:

    Some of the antidepressant Paxil CR produced at the plant was ineffective because a layer of active ingredient split from a layer of a barrier chemical during manufacturing, the government said, and some lots contained only the barrier chemical.

  69. #69 Chemmomo
    October 31, 2010

    Anon, also from your article:

    “Some of the antidepressant Paxil CR produced at the plant was ineffective because a layer of active ingredient split from a layer of a barrier chemical during manufacturing, the government said, and some lots contained only the barrier chemical.”

    That was on page 2. Maybe you missed it.

    If you have evidence that something works, but you’re knowingly selling bad batches that don’t actually contain that something, yes, it’s fraud. It’s not woo.

    If you want to argue whether or not that particular something actually works, that’s another matter entirely, and has nothing to do with this case at all. Or perhaps it does: if studies were run with these bad batches, no wonder they’re not effective!

  70. #70 Anon
    October 31, 2010

    from stephen barrett himself:

    “Dictionaries define quack as “a pretender to medical skill; a charlatan” and “one who talks pretentiously without sound knowledge of the subject discussed.” These definitions suggest that the promotion of quackery involves deliberate deception, but many promoters sincerely believe in what they are doing. The FDA defines health fraud as “the promotion, for profit, of a medical remedy known to be false or unproven.” This also can cause confusion because in ordinary usage—and in the courts—the word “fraud” connotes deliberate deception. Quackery’s paramount characteristic is promotion (“Quacks quack!”) rather than fraud, greed, or misinformation…

    Judgments about individual methods should be based on whether or not there is scientific evidence of effectiveness.”

    There was no scientific evidence for the antidepressant effectiveness, “GlaxoSmithKline…agreed…to settle criminal and civil complaints that the company for years knowingly sold…an ineffective antidepressant.”

    Chemmomo, you might prefer this:
    “…a consistent finding that serves as the basis for the oft-repeated mantra “There is no question that the safety and efficacy of antidepressants rest on solid scientific evidence,” as psychiatry professor Richard Friedman of Weill Cornell Medical College recently wrote in The New York Times. But ever since a seminal study in 1998, whose findings were reinforced by landmark research in The Journal of the American Medical Association last month, that evidence has come with a big asterisk. Yes, the drugs are effective, in that they lift depression in most patients. But that benefit is hardly more than what patients get when they, unknowingly and as part of a study, take a dummy pill—a placebo. As more and more scientists who study depression and the drugs that treat it are concluding, that suggests that antidepressants are basically expensive Tic Tacs.”
    http://www.newsweek.com/2010/01/28/the-depressing-news-about-antidepressants.html

    Enjoy your delusions (unless, of course, you know about it…then what should we call it?).

  71. #71 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    October 31, 2010

    Anon,

    I would agree with you if the antidepressants were ineffective when properly made. I also agree that any medicine that is no more effective than a placebo, but is sold as such, is woo.

  72. #72 LW
    October 31, 2010

    Anon, you previously linked to an article about the sale of tainted and contaminated drugs, and antidepressants that were ineffective because they were poorly manufactured, and you called that “woo”. Fraud and negligent manufacturing do not constitute woo. They constitute fraud and negligent manufacturing.

    Now you are linking to an article that suggests “that antidepressants are basically expensive Tic Tacs.” That is a different subject.

    Insulting us because we did not recognize that you read an article about fraud and negligent manufacturing as being an article about scientific evidence for the antidepressant effectiveness in general, is hardly a good way to begin a discussion.

    It is surprisingly difficult to design a test that will nail down whether you have a real effect or a placebo effect (read Bad Medicine for more on the topic), and so sometimes a treatment has “scientific proof” of its effectiveness, but is later found to be ineffective by more careful trials. That appears to be the case with antidepressants.

    I do not observe any commenter in this thread who is defending antidepressants; certainly I am not. We are merely pointing out that fraud and negligent manufacturing, which is all your original article described, do not constitute woo.

  73. #73 Chemmomo
    October 31, 2010

    LW @72: Well said.

    Thank you.

  74. #74 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    October 31, 2010

    LW @72 – I agree completely.

  75. #75 clheiny
    November 4, 2010

    “I wonder why homeopaths never explain the memory of ethanol?”

    As anyone who has ever consumed too much beer will tell you, ethanol in sufficient quantities impairs your memory. So maybe they just forgot?

    Or maybe it’s a shortcut in preparation. You use ethanol instead of water in the first 12 or so succussions, and the concoction rapidly forgets that it was ever in contact with the alleged active ingredient, much like you can’t remember who you went home with after slamming a 12-pack of Blatz. This increased forgetfulness increases the strength of the remedy dramatically, so it has to be diluted with distilled water through another couple of dozen succussions, until eventually it’s as inert as a hungover frat-boy on Sunday morning.

  76. #76 Calli Arcale
    November 4, 2010

    You, sir, win the thread, and about a dozen internets. That’s awesome.