Be on the alert: Mainstream and alternative medicines mixed together on the store shelves, not clearly distinguished

I was in the supermarket looking for cold medicine, and as is my wont, I like to read the fine print before choosing a product. Most of the products listed their active ingredients in the form Active Ingredient: XYZ 150mg. But there were a few that said Active Ingredient: XYZ 6X.

What is this 6X? How much is 6X? Six times what?

A closer look at the box reveals the word Homeopathic unobtrusively written towards the bottom of the box. The 6X notation means that the active ingredient's concentration is one part in 106, or one part in a million.

Suppose the dosage is one teaspoon. That's about five milliliters, or about five grams of medicine. One millionth of that is 5 × 10-6 of a gram or 0.005 milligrams. By comparison, non-homeopathic medicines contain 13mg of the same medicine per dose. But that's okay, because practitioners of homeopathy believe that a medicine becomes more powerful the more heavily it is diluted.

The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate homeopathic medicines very much at all because they contain little or no active ingredients.

Do practitioners of homeopathy not wash their hands? After all, diluting the germs with water makes them stronger, right? The more you wash, the more powerful they become!

Bonus homeopathy video: Homeopathic A&E as performed by British comedy show That Mitchell and Webb Look. (A&E = Accidents and Emergencies, what in the United States is commonly called the Emergency Room.)

Bonus homeopathy satire: New Age terrorists develop homeopathic bomb.

Obligatory XKCD link.

Comments (14)
  1. The homeopathic bomb link is pure genius. :)

    By the way, you've just won a homeopathy supporters vs reasoning people flame on your blog. Well done!

  2. Evan says:

    Reminds me of this Fark headline: "Homeopathy no longer available from the British NHS. 'After all, by their own logic, the less funding they get, the more effective it will be'."

  3. K says:

    I always like to tell the story of an acquintance who nearly died (surprise hospical vacation!) of homeopathic "medicine", because those white globules are made from bee wax, and since cheapness trumps quality, they just crush whole (hopefully deserted) bee nests when making them. This means that there are still dead bees inside. And said person was highly allergic to bee toxin.

  4. Andreas Rejbrand says:

    I live in Sweden, and, fortunately, homeopathic "drugs" are not sold here (at least not in mainstream stores), to the best of my knowledge. I wonder if it would even be legal to sell such products here…

  5. David says:

    Although it is a bit too long, the video of The Great Randy explaining how Homoeopathy (claims to) work is quite fun: I find the part where he explains how some guy sold a way to do this 'over the internet' particularly amusing :)

  6. GWO says:

    I use a homeopathic engine in my car.  You fill the tank with water and the residual memory of gasoline allows the engine to work as normal.  It's very cheap to run.

  7. James Schend says:

    Two quick comments:

    1) Homeopathy is a huge deal in the UK because the NHS (their national health insurance) will actually pay for homeopathic treatments, and actually opened "homeopathic hospitals" (whatever those are.) I've heard this is because the royal family is taken-in by the scam.

    2) That Mitchell and Webb Look is the best variety show on TV, bar none. Every episode makes me laugh so hard I can't breathe. Season 1 is available on Netflix. And some episodes are on Hulu, but they may be premium content. Highly, highly recommended.

  8. Ray Shuman says:

    David stole my thunder with his link to James Randi, above. But I have to repeat Randi's comment in his TED talk that one poor man died of an overdose when he forgot to take his pill.

  9. Bob says:

    Many years ago, there was a website which offered homeopathic anti-virus protection for PCs. They had distilled all known viruses (at the time) down to two differing bits and would expose your computer to one of them selected at random. Too bad my old bookmark doesn't work anymore so I can't inoculate my current PC.

  10. Engywuck says:

    @bob: "Many years ago, there was a website which offered homeopathic anti-virus protection for PCs. They had distilled all known viruses (at the time) down to two differing bits"

    I know these bits: 0 and 1 :)

  11. Engywuck says:

    Addendum: The problem being, of course, how to dilute these bits further for even more effectiveness…

  12. Paul M. Parks says:

    @Engywuck: I could send you a bit. As long as you don't look at it, it'll be in both states. That should cover you.

  13. Auntie says:

    @Paul M. Parks: Congratulations. You invented a whole new branch of homeopathy :)

  14. Paul M. Parks says:

    @Auntie: By gosh, you're right. It didn't occur to me at the time, but all you have to do is *not* list the ingredients on your vials of homeopathic remedy! Quantum homeopathy! Genius!

    One must admit that the scientific underpinnings of this approach are at least as valid as "traditional" homeopathy.

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