Medicine

When I first started to take an interest in medical marijuana, I was struck by how much it reminded me of herbalism. Although herbalism is scientifically the most plausible of modalities commonly associated with "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM), the use of herbal medicines still involve a number of problems, the biggest of which is what I like to call either the delivery problem or the bioavailability problem. In brief, herbs, when they work, are adulterated drugs. The active ingredient is often a relatively small, embedded in thousands of other constituents that make up herbs,…
As much as I like to deconstruct pseudoscientific claims, particularly about health, medicine, and health care, Sometimes it gets a bit draining. There's just so much pseudoscience, so much credulity, so much sheer idiocy out there that trying to refute them and encourage a more skeptical mindset often feels like pissing into the ocean, for all the effect it has. In the age of fake news and Donald Trump, it even feels as though we're going backward—and not slowly, either. That's why I felt it was time for a bit of a break, a bit more optimism than I've been able to muster before. So it was a…
Last week, I wrote about acupuncture, specifically how acupuncturists are unhappy that the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which provides guidelines for recommended treatments for diseases and conditions, does not recommend acupuncture for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis but does recommend arthroscopic washouts and debridement, for which the evidence is weak. My retort was simple: If this is true, the answer is not for NICE to start recommending quackery like acupuncture, but rather for it to stop recommending conventional medical and surgical treatments with…
Acupiuncture is a system of treatment rooted in the prescientific vitalism of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It doesn't work. For anything. As Steve Novella and David Colquhoun put it, acupuncture is basically a theatrical placebo, which is why rigorous studies consistently fail to find a treatment effect due to acupuncture that is detectably greater than placebo. Not that that's stopped acupuncturists and acupuncture advocates from trying desperately to show that acupuncture "works," even if it means hooking up acupuncture needles to electrodes and turning it into transcutaneous nerve…
Of all the modalities of alternative medicine currently in use, arguably acupuncture is the one that has achieved the most mainstream acceptance in medicine. I've often asked why it has become so common in academic medical centers and elsewhere, despite the evidence being overwhelmingly in favor of the conclusion that it is nothing more than a theatrical placebo. It doesn't matter that acupuncture is part of a prescientific system of medicine now known as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), whose concepts are rooted in vitalism. It doesn't matter that what has passed for acupuncture since the…
I'm having flashbacks now. I feel as though it's 2012, and I was just in the midst of examining the Houston cancer quack known as Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski. As you recall, he's the Polish expat doctor who discovered peptides in the blood that he dubbed "antineoplastons" and postulated to be endogenous cancer suppressors. He ultimately made them into a cancer treatment that he's been using on patients for over 40 years now, despite never having demonstrated its efficacy or safety. Despite that, he's become a rock star in the world of alternative cancer cures, with two propaganda movies disguised…
There are many harms attributable to the antivaccine movement and its promotion of antivaccine beliefs. Certainly, the harm those of us who have been combatting antivaccine misinformation fear is the return of vaccine-preventable diseases, which is something we've seen in the form of outbreaks, such as the Disneyland measles outbreak two years ago and, in my own state, pertussis outbreaks. The Disneyland outbreak was a wake-up call to California legislators, who in its wake passed SB 277, a law that eliminated personal belief exemptions (PBEs) to school vaccine requirements. Now, only medical…
I was going to write about this yesterday, but seeing a family of a child with terminal cancer seduced by the siren call of Stanislaw Burzynski and his antineoplaston quackery distracted me and I had to blog about it. It's actually an appropriate lead-in to this story, which was based on an announcement by the FDA that it was sending warning letters to 14 companies for selling products that they claimed were treatments for cancer: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today posted warning letters addressed to 14 U.S.-based companies illegally selling more than 65 products that fraudulently…
When last I wrote about Houston cancer quack Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski nearly two months ago, he had, as I characterized it, just mostly slithered away from justice once again. The Texas Medical Board had not removed his license and had only fined him relatively lightly given his offenses. True, he had conditions placed on his continued practice (more on that later), but it hasn't slowed him down, as you will soon see. Another family is raising funds, this time from the UK, to travel to Houston for his nostrums. Basically, by failing to revoke Stanislaw Burzynski's medical license, the Texas…
More than 8 million U.S. children depend on the Children’s Health Insurance Program for access to timely medical care. The program is authorized through 2019, but its federal funding expires in September and it’s unclear what Congress will do. That uncertainty stresses all the systems and families that depend on CHIP, but it may be especially risky for the 2 million chronically ill children who get care through the program, which was originally designed for families falling in the gap between market affordability and Medicaid eligibility. In a study published this month in Health Affairs,…
March seemed to be naturopathic quackery month. Let's face it, though, every month is naturopathic quackery month. It's just that in March there were two stories that really caught my eye. The first was the story of a naturopath in Bowling Green named Juan Sanchez, who was gunned down in his office one Friday evening, allegedly by the distraught widower of a cancer patient whom he had treated, after having told her and her husband that "chemo is for losers" and claiming that he could eliminate her cancer in three months. The second was even more shocking. Basically, a naturopath in Encinitas…
If you were to rely on much of what you see in the mainstream media and on social media, you probably have the impression that we are not doing very well against cancer. Indeed, a common trope I see in a lot of articles is that we are somehow "losing" the war on cancer. Just for yuks, I Googled the term "losing the war on cancer," and it didn't take long to find a lot of articles, both in the mainstream press and, more predictably, on alternative medicine-friendly websites making just that argument. Indeed, in 2011, which was the 40th anniversary of President Nixon's declaration of "war on…
Last week, I took note of something that antivaxers hadn't done in nine years, specifically a "march on Washington." Back in 2008, Jenny McCarthy and her then-boyfriend Jim Carrey led a rag tag rogues' gallery of antivaccine activists on a march and rally that they called "Green Our Vaccines." The name of the rally, of course, derived from a common trope beloved of antivaccine activists that I like to refer to as the "toxin gambit." It's basically a Food Babe-like fear of those "evil chemicals" writ large in a claim that vaccines are packed full of horrific chemicals that are Making Our…
It's been a while since I've written about the burgeoning business of selling marijuana as a cure for whatever ails you. As I've written before, there exists a mystical faith that is very much like herbalism that marijuana is a magical plant that can cure, well, almost anything, including cancer, glaucoma, autism, ADHD, and many other conditions, when in fact the evidence is rather shaky for most, if not all, of these claims. Regarding cancer, the usual claim is not that smoking marijuana cures the disease, but rather that cannabis oil isolated from marijuana cures cancer, a claim that Rick…
After yesterday's post on a local news station's credulous promotion of quack acupuncture (but I repeat myself) for pets, I thought I'd stay on the topic of acupuncture for one more day. The reason is that a reader sent me a link to an article in Stars and Stripes that really irritated me, Acupuncture becomes popular as battlefield pain treatment. Longtime readers might remember that I've been writing about the utter ridiculousness and lack of science behind "battlefield acupuncture" and how it makes no sense to be sticking recently wounded soldiers with needles under battlefield conditions.…
Acupuncture is a theatrical placebo, nothing more. It has no "curative powers," and, when studied objectively in good double-blind, randomized controlled clinical trials with proper sham acupuncture controls, there is consistently found to be no difference between sham and "true" (or, as they like to call it, "verum") acupuncture. (Indeed, I have written about this many times.) The only exceptions to this rule tend to be studies that come out of China. Basically pretty much all acupuncture studies that come out of China are positive because they appear to be conducted with the intent to…
It was only just yesterday that I recounted the story of a naturopathic quack in Bowling Green, KY who told a cancer patient that "chemo is for losers," promising her that he eliminate her tumor within three months. She listened to him, and as a result she died, as she and her husband were suing the quack. Not long after, her distraught widower walked into the quack's office on a Friday evening earlier this month and, if the police charges are accurate, shot him dead. Basically, because this quack convinced the woman to forego chemotherapy, whatever chance of survival she had was eliminated.…
Naturopathy is a frequent topic on this blog because it is a veritable cornucopia of quackery, in which not pseudoscience is too out there. Homeopathy, functional medicine, bogus diagnostic tests, traditional Chinese medicine, reflexology, naturopaths embrace it all, and more. More importantly, thanks to "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM), known more recently as "integrative medicine," naturopathy is becoming more and more "respectable." Indeed, there are naturopaths at far too many academic medical centers. One even participated in the writing of the Society for Integrative…
[NOTE: Due to the windstorm last week, I was knocked out of the blogging game for a while and even had to stay in a hotel for one night. We did get our power back late Friday night, but we also didn't get Internet back until much later in the weekend, because our cable went out too. So, I thought I'd have a new post for today, but, alas, I did not. So, continuing on the them of Friday, I thought I'd repost an article of a sort that I almost never do any more. This one was posted over 11 years ago and was last reposted over 5 years ago. Tomorrow, I'll definitely be back.] The patient list for…
[NOTE: As I mentioned yesterday, our power outage continues, and, thanks to having to decamp to a hotel last night, I didn't have time to produce new Insolence. So I thought I'd repost a "classic" from 11 years ago that I don't believe I've ever reposted before during vacation or otherwise. It represents a sort of blogging that I haven't done for years, just a personal story with nothing to do with my usual topics, such as pseudoscience, quackery, clinical trials, and basic science. This story is based on a real patient encounter from around 25 years ago, but details have been changed.] I don…