No alternative medicine ever disappears when shown to be ineffective: The case of laetrile

Everything old is new again, or so it always seems with alternative medicine.

Before I explain what I'm talking about a bit more, let me just preface my remarks with an explanation for why there was no post tomorrow. I realize that most people probably don't care that much if I miss a day or two, but I care. Basically, I was in Chicago from Thursday through Sunday taking a rather grueling review course in general surgery offered by the American College of Surgeons. The reason is that I have to take my board recertification examination in general surgery in December. It was an amazing course, and I was stunned at how much outside of my specialty had changed in the decade since I last had to recertify, just as, I'm sure, those who don't specialize in breast surgery were shocked at how much has changed in how the surgical care of breast cancer has changed in the last decade. (I might have more to say about this in a later post.) The primary reason I'm mentioning now (other than because it explains why I didn't manage to get a new post for this blog) is because this change in the standard of care in response to new scientific evidence is one of the greatest features of science-based medicine. It's also one of the biggest contrasts between science-based medicine and alternative medicine; i.e., what I like to call quackery, mainly because it is.

I was reminded of this contrast by an article I came across on Buzzfeed yesterday, These People Are Making Money Off A Bogus Cancer Cure That Doctors Say Could Poison You. Of course, I knew right away what the article was about just from the title, without even having to note that the blurb for the article mentioned apricot seeds. Yes, we're talking laetrile here, and apparently there are still quacks who are partying like it's 1979, which was laetrile's heyday as an alternative cancer cure:

The San Francisco Bay Area doctor had been giving patients a therapy that is essentially a chemical compound found in apricot kernels and known by several names — laetrile, amygdalin, vitamin B17. Richardson had been told it could attack tumors, naturally and precisely. It can also convert into potentially poisonous amounts of cyanide when eaten. But Richardson was a true believer.

“Yes, the evidence that Vitamin B17 is nature’s control for cancer is quite overwhelming,” he wrote in his book. “So the next time you hear an official spokesman for orthodox medicine proclaim that there is none, you might tell him that such a statement is a ‘self-evident absurdity’ and suggest that he do his homework before posing as an expert.”

Less convinced were the police who, on June 2, 1972, barged into Richardson’s clinic and jailed him on charges of medical quackery. He eventually lost his medical license and was charged with smuggling laetrile, an illegal drug, into the country.

It turns out that Richardson's son is continuing the family business, so to speak:

Now, three decades after Richardson’s death, his son, John Richardson Jr., is no stranger to apricot seeds. Through Apricot Power, his thriving e-commerce store, he sells bitter seeds ($32.99 for 1,500), seed extract-based tablets (up to $97.99 a bottle), and B17-infused anti-aging cream ($49.99). Recipes for apricot-seed pesto, egg nog, and marzipan offer a “delicious and easy” way to work the supposed superfood into your diet, and videos explain why the site’s mission is to “get B17 into every body!” Though Richardson Jr. won’t reveal revenue numbers, he says his family operation of around 10 employees has served “thousands” of customers all over the world since it launched in 1999.

See what I mean? In the early 1980s, clinical trials showed that laetrile had no appreciable anticancer effect in humans and that it was also toxic. (The reason, of course, is the cyanide.) In science-based medicine, that would have been that. The treatment would have abandoned. But that's not how alternative medicine works. True, laetrile did fade in popularity for a couple of decades after that, but of late it appears to be undergoing somewhat of a resurgence and "renaissance" (if you can call the revival of dangerous quackery a "renaissance"). I first noticed it three years ago when Eric Merola, the man behind two propaganda films promoting Stanislaw Burzynski's cancer quackery, decided to shift topics to—you guessed it—laetrile. He directed a documentary entitled Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering, which, like his films on Burzynski were full of misinformation, obvious bias and spin, and just plain quackery and pseudoscience. Basically, as I discussed in my deconstruction of his film, the central idea being that Ralph Moss, who was a science writer of some sort at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and is now laetrile's foremost popularizer, along with other MSKCC employees, "leaked" documents "proving" that laetrile/amygdalin had incredible anticancer activity. It was the same old thing. According to Merola, the negative clinical trials were "rigged not to work." According to Merola, Laetrile “tested positively” in preclinical studies but that those results were "covered up" (of course). Other works supposedly showing the efficacy of laetrile was "suppressed."\

You get the idea.

It turns out that Richardson is a bit more canny in that he states very,."We don’t mention the C-word in our company," the "C-word" being cancer. The Buzzfeed article also notes:

If a customer review on Apricot Power’s website even mentions the term, the company leaves a comment pointing out that it doesn’t make any disease or illness-related claims about its products. Legally, it can’t: The FDA prohibits companies from selling laetrile, under any name, as a cancer treatment, because studies have found it to be at best ineffective, and at worst toxic.

Holy quack Miranda warning, Batman! I've never seen a company actually respond to any mention of cancer on its social media pages with a pre-emptive quack Miranda before!

And, thanks to that same social media, everything old is new yet again:

In laetrile’s heyday in 1981, a doctor called it “the slickest, most sophisticated, and certainly the most remunerative cancer quack promotion in medical history.” Three decades later, the internet has only spread the gospel, creating an unstoppable, hydra-headed ecosystem of buyers and sellers.

I've discussed this before, of course, but I'll briefly cover it again, mainly because there are likely to be newbies reading this. Basically, according to this article, the idea behind laetrile is that the body is lacking in a nutrient that proponents call "vitamin B17." That's sort of true, but only the latest iteration in the ever-morphing scientific "explanations" for how laetrile/amygdalin/vitamin B17 "works." Basically, “Laetrile” is the trade name for laevo-mandelonitrile-beta-glucuronoside, a substance allegedly synthesized by Ernst T. Krebs, Jr. in the 1920s. It’s chemically related to amygdalin, a substance found naturally in the pits of apricots and some other fruits. Again, most proponents of Laetrile for the treatment of cancer use the terms “Laetrile” and amygdalin interchangeably, and I generally do as well. Historically, amygdalin was tried as an anticancer agent as early as 1892, but was abandoned because it was ineffective and toxic, its toxicity deriving from how it can break down in the body into glucose, benzaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide.

Like the rationale for many forms of quackery, the rationale for Laetrile has shifted over the decades. In the 1950s, Ernst T. Krebs, Jr. claimed that cancer tissues are rich in an enzyme that causes amygdalin to release cyanide, which would destroy the cancer cells. Supposedly noncancerous tissues are protected by another enzyme. Later, Krebs claimed that Laetrile/amygdalin is a vitamin (B17) and, of course, cancer is due to a deficiency in that particular vitamin. Other claims have shifted, from Laetrile being a cancer cure to being able to “control” cancer to being a cancer “preventative.” Then, like so many alternative medicines, the indications for its use went what the military might call "mission creep" in that it was advocated for more and more conditions. These days, amygdalin/vitamin B17/laetrile is advocated for almost anything that ails you, just like the snake oil peddled by wandering salesmen 150 years ago.

So how did Richardson's father get involved with selling amygdalin? He met up with Krebs, of course:

A successful salesperson must buy into what they’re selling, and Richardson Jr. is all in. Growing up in the Bay Area suburb of Orinda, he and his seven siblings weren’t fed sugar or processed wheat, an abstention he keeps up to this day. He says he started eating apricot seeds for his health at age 5. Now 52, he’s up to 40 a day.

The seeds contain amygdalin, a compound also found in apple seeds and almonds. In the 1950s, Ernst T. Krebs Jr., a self-described doctor and biochemist with no medical degree, patented a purified form of amygdalin that he called “laetrile.” He also promoted it as “vitamin B17,” although it’s not an officially recognized vitamin.

In 1971, Krebs Jr. shared with the elder Richardson his theory of how this nutrient could stop cancer growth. As Richardson later summarized: “[N]ature’s mechanism will not work if one fails to eat the foods that contain this necessary vitamin, which is exactly what has happened to modern man, whose food supply has become further and further removed from the natural state.”

Also, presaging how the antivaccine movement and other supporters of quackery have become more associated with anti-government conservative/libertarian movements, here's what happened when the elder Richardson was arrested in 1972 for selling laetrile:

When the elder Richardson was arrested in 1972 (on charges that were dropped), it prompted his fellow members of the John Birch Society, the far-right conspiracist group of the era, to start a lobbying group to legalize laetrile. Later, Richardson was fined $20,000 and placed on probation on charges of conspiracy to smuggle laetrile from Mexico to the US. Indictments against him and 18 other accused promoters noted that he had deposited $2.5 million in his bank account over two years.

Laetrile isn't being called laetrile much any more, but rather vitamin B17 or amygdalin, or it's being sold in the form of apricot seeds. It's a rather obvious "rebranding" to avoid the FDA and FTC's ban on advertising laetrile for cancer. Avoid the "C-word," throw in the liberal use of the quack Miranda warning, and start marketing laetrile as a dietary supplement, the better to avoid having to demonstrate efficacy and safety.

Another feature of this sort of marketing is that the companies selling supplements like amygdalin don't actually have to make health claims. They can outsource it to the internet communities of believers who trade alternative cancer cure testimonials, to believers who have written books, made videos and movies, and write blogs. Of course, as I've said so many times before, dead patients don't give testimonials; so of course only the patients who are still alive and doing relatively well are the ones promoting amygdalin with their stories. People you don't hear about are cancer patients like this:

Campbell had a daughter who, not long after she was born, developed a rare, aggressive brain cancer and died. More than five years later, Campbell developed cancer, too, in her breast. Having watched her daughter undergo chemotherapy and radiation, she was determined to avoid them herself. So she started juicing, eating an all-vegetarian diet, and ordering cannabis oil and apricot seeds online. “She said, ‘This is my journey, it’s my body, I have to do it on my own,’” recalled Beggs, who lives in Northern Ireland. “‘You’re either with me or against me.’”

Beggs understood why Campbell distrusted conventional therapies, but “at the same time, we were so fearful,” she said. Campbell’s tumor kept growing until she finally agreed to have a mastectomy. Then new tumors sprouted in her liver and spine.

Campbell died in October 2015, soon after her 33rd birthday. By the end, she was up to 40 apricot kernels a day, her aunt said.

In quackery, be it cancer quackery or quackery used for other diseases, no treatment, no matter how ineffective and even toxic, ever disappears. No treatment ever disappears after being shown by science to be ineffective. The story of laetrile shows us that. The difference between quackery and science-based medicine could not be clearer.


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Recipes for apricot-seed pesto, egg nog, and marzipan...

Gotta love that marzipan taste! You drink benzaldehyde every time you drink DiSarrono™, or almond extract. The bitter almond has laetrile, but in about ½ to ⅓ the amount of apricot seeds. The bitterness was bred-out of most almonds over the past few thousand years.

I think they are good. There is a strong resemblance between apricot seeds and bitter almonds. I stuff them inside of dates (get your mind out of the gutter people.)

What I found bizarre about the whole deal is that the laetrile proponents actually put-out an old-school promotional video in Technichrome, where they actually made the bold claim that "cancer is a laetrile deficiency", made manifest by switching from a natural raw plant diet to a cooked diet. (Tell that to the mice given 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracene.)

But apricot seeds are unlikely to kill you with cyanide before the bitterness gets overwhelming.

It would be interesting to see if it actually accumulated in cancer cells (some molecules are actually known to do this) like they claim. But I don't foresee any ¹³C-amygdalin studies in the near future, so I'll probably never know.

One patient, however, challenged with a large intake of raw almonds, had transient symptoms of cyanide toxic reaction with escalating blood cyanide levels. This small study indicates that amygdalin in the doses employed produces few clinical side effects. A definite hazard of cyanide toxic reaction must be assumed, however, and possible long-term side effects remain unknown.

A Pharmacologic and Toxicological Study of Amygdalin

"You’re either with me or against me." and "America, Love It or Leave It" have to be two of the most famous false dichotomies of all time, although I'm sure there are others.

By Chris Preston (not verified) on 01 Aug 2017 #permalink

When the elder Richardson was arrested in 1972 (on charges that were dropped), it prompted his fellow members of the John Birch Society, the far-right conspiracist group of the era, to start a lobbying group to legalize laetrile.

The John Birch Society never went away, either. It has taken over the Republican Party. You may have heard of the Koch brothers, billionaires who bankroll the Republican party. Their father co-founded the John Birch Society.

The "theory" here (I use that term very loosely) is that if the free market were able to decide things, we would have effective and affordable cures for any and all diseases. The real world doesn't work that way. Somebody has to pay for the research, and has been mentioned in other posts, only about one in ten prospective new drugs make it through the process. Meanwhile, people are free to ignore the research that shows that treatments like "vitamin B17" are ineffective at best. Libertarian economics assumes that people are rational actors. Many are not, especially when they are ill.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 01 Aug 2017 #permalink

By any measure, John ("the elder") Richardson made a huge amount of money off laetrile. From the Quackwatch article about the rise and fall of laetrile (the fall part seems to have been premature):

"In 1974, he reported that his medical practice had grossed $783,000, with a net income of $172,981. By charging patients $2,000 for a course of Laetrile, Richardson managed to increase his net income 17-fold in just two years. According to his income tax returns, Richardson grossed $2.8 million dollars from his Laetrile practice between January 1973 and March 1976. The actual amount of money he received may have even been higher. In Laetrile Case Histories, he claimed to have treated 4,000 patients, with an average charge of $2,500 per patient. Culbert states that by 1976 Richardson had treated 6,000 patients. If these figures are correct, Richardson would have grossed between $10 and $15 million dollars during this time."

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 01 Aug 2017 #permalink

The marketing of this peach pit snake oil completely feeds into the "look how wide awake I am by doing my own research" attitude of their typical customer who has to believe that the FDA/government/Big Pharma are all suppressing this miracle cure. Suppressing it so much that you have to be oh-so-clever to even find it on line. In a sick, killing-cancer-patients-without-a-shred-of-humanity, it is ingenious.

By Chris Hickie (not verified) on 01 Aug 2017 #permalink

What's sickening is that Richardson Jr. pops up in the comments of that story to defend himself and state repeatedly that he never claims to cure anything.He's only selling a healthy food that we all need and are lacking in our modern diet.

Of course he's so deep in denial that he doesn't realize that other a$$hats like Mike Adams, Ty Bollinger, Ralph Moss and Eric Merola (among many others) do all his marketing for him. They drive business to his website, desperate people hoping to cure their cancer because Ty Bollinger says it works. It's all "nudge nudge wink wink but Richardson is fully complicit and knows exactly what's going on.

I wouldn't be surprised if he shows up here too to refute/market.

Oh, and another Bollinger shill in the comments claims his daughter cured her cancer TWICE, both times 30 days from death (how would he know?) by eating Richardson's pits.

By Woo Fighter (not verified) on 01 Aug 2017 #permalink

From Richardson senior

“[N]ature’s mechanism will not work if one fails to eat the foods that contain this necessary vitamin, which is exactly what has happened to modern man, whose food supply has become further and further removed from the natural state.”

Because the Ancients (tm) had a daily access to apricot seeds?
Oh, I get it, it's just the same storyline as "live food". Modern food is depleted of nutrients, so you need to eat multivitamin pills instead. With extra selenium.

Meanwhile, in UK, a man was hospitalized this week after eating 3 cherry stones. Yep, cyanide poisoning.
B17 doesn't sound that necessary for life, finally.

@ Woo Fighter

his daughter cured her cancer TWICE, both times 30 days from death (how would he know?)

There is this little countdown-running clock above everybody's head, didn't you notice it?

By Helianthus (not verified) on 01 Aug 2017 #permalink

Oh, and another Bollinger shill in the comments claims his daughter cured her cancer TWICE, both times 30 days from death (how would he know?) by eating Richardson’s pits.

In addition to the logical flaw you spotted, there is the problem of why someone whose cancer was supposedly cured would have a recurrence. I suspect she stopped her treatment a little too soon the first time around. And how would this guy know that his daughter wasn't also (or instead) getting science-based treatment?

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 01 Aug 2017 #permalink

Oh, she's showing up in the comments now too. Here's the short story: she takes the pits, her tumours go away. She stops taking them and the tumours come back. They disappear within days of starting the pits again. Both times she was "30 days from eternity."

By Woo Fighter (not verified) on 01 Aug 2017 #permalink

So 'Vitamin B17' is rearing it's ugly head again. I have a book from the 1970s that covers a whole range of health fads, from Organic Food to various strange concoctions guaranteed to cure all ills and of course 'Vitiamin B15' (Pangamic Acid)...

"an explanation for why there was no post tomorrow."

Sorry for being pedantic, but I think you broke the space-time continuum ;-)

By Sebastian (not verified) on 01 Aug 2017 #permalink

WF@11: OK, that clarifies some things, but it leaves unanswered the question of how she knew that she was within 30 days of death. Did that evaluation come from a competent doctor, or was it accompanied by words along the lines of, "...unless you take these pills."? For that matter, who is evaluating the progression/remission of her tumors? The whole thing smells like an apocryphal anecdote to me.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 01 Aug 2017 #permalink

...if you can call the revival of dangerous quackery a “renaissance”

How about a "regrowth"? Like how a tumour not successfully excised will come back to plague us again.

It smells like something else to me, Eric. The kind you need hip waders to walk through.

Apricot pits have cyanide in them. Cyanide! One of the big scary poisons everyone has heard of!

I really, really don't get it. How can a person say 'I'm scared of chemo, it has chemicals in it, so I'm going to eat cyanide"?

I think I'm going to have to put my head on my desk for a minute.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 01 Aug 2017 #permalink

Indeed, no quackery ever disappears, no matter how soundly it is rebutted.

Last weekend, I went with my family to the Science Museum of Minnesota. They inherited the superlative quackery collection of the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, which occupied a storefront in Minneapolis for many years until its owner decided to retire. The Science Museum has been steadily adding to the collection, and improving its visibility. It is now the first thing you see when you arrive on the middle exhibit floor, which as it is also the floor for special temporary exhibits, is one a lot of people will see. You can sit in a vibrating Kellogg chair, try on a phrenology tester, or sit in a replica orgone accumulator box. (They also have a vintage box on display.) What astonished me was to see a new addition to the orgone display -- they acquired a brand-new orgone accumulator blanket, retailing at $200. Given that orgone is total bunk, that's a hell of a nifty markup for a pretty basic flannel blanket.

I was stunned. I always thought of orgone as a great example of how kooky and crazy people were back in the heyday of patent medicine. I had no idea it was still being hawked today. Damn. If *orgone* is still around, I don't know that there's any hope for squelching other medical nonsense.

That said, if you're ever in the Twin Cities, do visit the Science Museum. The quackery exhibit alone is worth the price of admission, in my opinion. The upper floor, where you enter, also has a great exhibit on vaccination. You might wonder why they put that up on the top floor (which is dedicated to the natural history of Minnesota), but it's actually very shrewd -- the vaccination exhibit is right next to a massively popular exhibit where kids can sit at a pretend news desk and read a teleprompter and pretend to be news anchors. It's the first thing you see after you show your wristband, and kids will line up and wait for their turn. While they're waiting, the closest entertainment is educational displays about vaccination. ;-) It's brilliant, and I hope it helps. They use a ball and stick game to teach herd immunity. There is a plexiglass tube with little figures of people painted on each end. Some balls represent infectious disease, and when you start, the balls are all at one end, infecting those people. The middle of the tube has a lot of holes in it, through which you can insert plastic sticks which represent vaccination shots. The challenge is to stick enough in at the right angles that when you turn the tube over, none or very few of the disease balls fall to the people on the other end of the tube. There's also a variation on the labyrinth game with more educational content related to vaccines and infectious disease. You mainly see parents playing with these exhibits, while their kids wait to be pretend news anchors, and I think that's the goal.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 01 Aug 2017 #permalink

It kinda makes sense, since laetrile is glucose-conjugated. Thus, Griffins "bait" analogy might have some plausibility.

But once you read this, it makes no sense at all:

However, cecal contents of conventional rats, exhibited both amygdalin- and prunasin-hydrolyzing activities. The resulting mandelonitrile dissociates spontaneously into cyanide and benzaldehyde. Therefore, our findings indicate that metabolism of amygdalin to prunasin occurring in the proximal part of jejunum is apparently mediated by enzymatic beta(1-6)glucosidase activity of the gut wall. In contrast, the toxicity of amygdalin due to the release of cyanide obviously requires microbiological activities of the gut flora.

Intestinal first pass metabolism of amygdalin in the rat in vitro

This, and the human studies showing elevated cyanide levels, would certainly indicate that this molecule disintegrates before it can reach cancer cells (except for maybe enterocytes.)

(Although Ernst Krebs was a biochemist, it should be noted that the Kreb's Cycle was named after someone else entirely. It was named after Sir Hans Adolf Krebs (no relation). Part of Laetrile's popularity could be explained by his last name, as it allows him to "ride on the coattails" of the notoriety of Krebs proper (the Nobel-winning Krebs) by either confoundment or subconscious association.)

JustaTech - but it's NATURAL cyanide from nature..

By Jane Ostentatious (not verified) on 01 Aug 2017 #permalink

From Calli Arcale@#19

What astonished me was to see a new addition to the orgone display — they acquired a brand-new orgone accumulator blanket, retailing at $200. Given that orgone is total bunk, that’s a hell of a nifty markup for a pretty basic flannel blanket.

Gee, so that's what Linus van Pelt has been doing after Charles Schulz passed away! Not content with the Great Pumpkin, he has gone into orgone woo!

By Anonymous Coward (not verified) on 01 Aug 2017 #permalink

Calli Arcale@#19

What astonished me was to see a new addition to the orgone display — they acquired a brand-new orgone accumulator blanket, retailing at $200. Given that orgone is total bunk, that’s a hell of a nifty markup for a pretty basic flannel blanket.

Gee, so that's what Linus van Pelt has been up to after Charles Schulz passed away! Or did Lucy put him up to it? It sounds like precisely the sort of thing Lucy would make poor Linus do.

By Anonymous Coward (not verified) on 01 Aug 2017 #permalink

I always thought of orgone as a great example of how kooky and crazy people were back in the heyday of patent medicine.

No, no, the Orgone accumulators were rolling well into the '70s. I seem to recall some Hawkwind fans around here, to whom I will defer.

I was stunned. I always thought of orgone as a great example of how kooky and crazy people were back in the heyday of patent medicine. I had no idea it was still being hawked today. Damn. If *orgone* is still around, I don’t know that there’s any hope for squelching other medical nonsense.

What Doctors Wouldn't Tell You Even If They Were Blind Drunk And Taking The Piss (or whatever it's called) have been hawking Orgone nonsense in their latest spam.

And for Narad:

By Rebecca Fisher (not verified) on 02 Aug 2017 #permalink

I would totally recommend reading Adventures in the Orgasmatron for a history of the descent of Wilhelm Reich into orgone madness. The sCAMsters rely on the ignorance of history of enough people to make the con work.

Narad -- yeah, I know that now. But it ain't just the 70s -- the blanket they purchased for the exhibit was acquired at retail price in 2015.

Actually, that's one of the more interesting things they've added to the original collection: modern examples to go with the vintage quackery. It's not just the orgone blanket. Magnets, electric stimulation, remote diagnosis and treatment via radio (and today, the Internet), colored light therapy..... They haven't added anything for homeopathy yet, but it's probably only a matter of time. The collection started out as exclusively medical devices, and today has just a few patent medicines on display. Hopefully they'll expand into that area later -- it's certainly a rich field to mine.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 02 Aug 2017 #permalink

re blasts from the past

Today, Mercola lauds the work of Seyfried and ketogenic diets for cancer; the post includes standard swipes at chemotherapy, the Komen Foundation, mentions Warburg etc as well as paypal where you can donate money to research.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 02 Aug 2017 #permalink

Yeah. I saw it. Given that there seems to be a disturbance in the quack force resulting in a lot of the usual suspects resurrecting praise of Seyfried and ketogenic diets, at some point in the near future I might have to update my post from three years ago on the topic.

Cool. I know where to go ever I ever visit the Twin Cities :)

My sister gave me a medical device for the treatment of hysteria that dates back to the early 20th Century.

It's essentially a vibrator LOL

Oh, and Ernst Krebs was never a biochemist. He flunked out of school . . . multiple times. He called himself a biochemist, but that doesn't make him one.

Well, yeah. The "treatment" for female "hysteria" used to be old psychiatrist and doctor dudes basically diddling the woman's bits until she reached orgasm.

What astonished me was to see a new addition to the orgone display — they acquired a brand-new orgone accumulator blanket, retailing at $200. Given that orgone is total bunk, that’s a hell of a nifty markup for a pretty basic flannel blanket.

A good friend of mine in college actually made an orgone blanket as part of a project for an academic program we were in. It was actually a brilliant bit of satire, and somehow he got credit for it.

The blanket itself was pretty simple; apparently the idea with "orgone accumulators" is to sandwich layers of inorganic material between layers of organic material, so he basically made a wool (or flannel?) blanket filled with, I think, steel wool.

There's also something called DOR, or "deadly orgone," which I assume does the reverse of whatever orgone is supposed to do. I believe it is supposed to emanate from electronics, etc.

"Feel anything yet?"
"Yeah, it's probably all the DOR around here."

Trevor kept a journal of all his blanket sessions, but filled the entries with increasingly elaborate dreams and visions (he read these entries out loud during his presentation) until he got to the revelation: "I... AM... LOKI!"

Our friend Derek, who lives in Madison now, still has the blanket, for some reason.

JP - you can now buy yarn that has a stainless steel core, wrapped in either wool or silk. It's interesting from a fiber arts perspective because you can make fabric that holds specific shapes. If the yarn itself weren't so expensive and knitting weren't so time-consuming (and one was unburdened by scruples) I could imagine a cottage industry selling orgone accumulator scarves or hats!

By Emma Crew (not verified) on 02 Aug 2017 #permalink

If *orgone* is still around, I don’t know that there’s any hope for squelching other medical nonsense.

Well, I'm not tossing out my Kate Bush CDs... Here's why you can hope to squelch other medical nonsense: Orgone is less medical nonsense than something like aesthetic expression meets 'alternative' spirituality/philosophy. I don't think it's something that many people ever took seriously and literally at the same time. Reich's madness is just interesting whether you buy into it in any sense it or not...

Speaking of 'don't miss' museums, if you're ever in Baltimore, make sure you check out AVAM, The American Visionary Art museum. A lot of the art there was made by crazy people, some of them institutionalized-crazy, some religious crazy, some utterly idiosyncratically crazy. People who build massive apocalyptic Biblical allegory sculpture gardens out of bottle-caps and broken glass... stuff like that. Taken literally it's all nonsense, but it would be incredibly sad if everyone squelched things that are so expressive and oddly beautiful.

Anyway, most medical nonsense is sorely lacking in aesthetic/philosophical value. No one as cool as Kate Bush will ever write a lovely song about reflexology or coffee enemas. Once those things are as debunked as 'orgone science', there's no other reason for anyone but the quacks to want to keep them around.

When I was in Thailand, I visited the Golden Triangle. There is a strange museum there: Museum of Opium. And no they don't sell any.

#25 - JDK,


It is very interesting that two of the most notorious crackpots of the 20th century - Wilhelm Reich and Immanuel Velikovsky were both psychiatrists / psychoanalysts.
Velikovsky's & Reich's scientific ignorance was astonishing, but that did not stop the terminally credulous from embracing their delusions.

(The above is not meant as a general swipe at psychiatry / psychology as I believe they are very important.)

Callie: I have three days before I leave the city. Why do you have to recommend that book NOW? I guess I'll have to wait a couple of weeks. (Yes, I could buy it, but hardcovers are expensive. Also, I think I'm at the limit of 'acceptable number of books.'

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 02 Aug 2017 #permalink

Emma Crew @33: I have a friend who knitted himself a shirt and his wife a tunic from that stuff. It's a nightmare to work with (very hard on the hands) and at least the pieces he knitted were more air than material. I don't know if that was a decision based on cost, weight, or aesthetics, but the idea of trying to knit a whole blanket -shudder.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 02 Aug 2017 #permalink

I could imagine a cottage industry selling orgone accumulator scarves or hats!

Not to be used for the treatment of brain tumors, though, per the Orgonics web site:

Orgone accumulator devices should not be used on brain tumors because the brain is encapsulated by bone and any edema or breakdown products from the tumor can create too much pressure inside.

Actually, the whole "CAUTIONS" section is frikkin' comedy gold. Behold:

Can you sit and use a flatscreen computer while using an orgone device?
I don't recommend it because the keyboards of these high-powered laptops give off strong electro-magnetic fields; especially don't sit with one of these in your laps as it can affect your reproductive organs.

You should not use an orgone device within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant. If there are rolling hills or mountains between you and the nuclear plant, 25 miles distance is sometimes adequate. If you are unsure, try a small orgone pad first and see what the charge feels like in your environment.

"I’m knitting it into a pair of socks. Nothing fits better nor wears longer than solid wire socks."

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 02 Aug 2017 #permalink

Justatech I have some, which I vaguely planned to put into a weaving project, or else knitting it on huge needles in rows alternating with something else to create something moldable without killing my hands - knitting cotton is bad enough! I understand you can also use it over short distances to connect LED sequins for wearable electronics. The furthest I've gone on that path is incorporating some EL wire in a bag, though.

By Emma Crew (not verified) on 02 Aug 2017 #permalink

#29 Orac
Please do update your takedown of the ketogenic miracle. Mercola is promoting the hell out of his fat for fuel book and his metabolic mitochondrial therapy. All disease especially cancer is poorly fed mitochondria, the poor things choking on a high-carb, non-organic western diet.
Unfortunately, I have a copy of the book and the list of people offering praise and support include Mark Hyman, Seyfried (of course), Perlmutter, and many others from the crankosphere.

Mr Woo actually went to the doctor Monday (he quit authorizing refills; it had been 18+ months). I think it was because his betasitosterol was not shrinking his prostate and he finally decided blood glucose in the 200s meant his Dr Whittaker's "GlucoGold" was no longer adequate to manage his T2 diabetes.

He might live to 75, after all...

As long as he doesn't get anything else. The woo is strong in this one.

Unfortunately, I have a copy of the book and the list of people offering praise and support include Mark Hyman, Seyfried (of course), Perlmutter, and many others from the crankosphere.

You would think that the increasing market penetration would bother Hyman?