One of the main comments by homeopaths on the 10:23 overdose campaign is that skeptics have yet again demonstrated that homeopathy is safe.
That’s one possibility. Another possibility, and I think a more likely one; is that homeopathy is safe because there isn’t anything in it.
Skeptics would also argue that homeopathy is unsafe precisely because it has nothing in it. If consumers are convinced enough to treat life-threatening conditions with homeopathy, results can be tragic. Take, for example, the case of Penelope Dingle: the coroner’s report in relation to her death in 2005 was recently released. [PDF]
Warning: this is a coroner’s report; it’s a very graphic and distressing account of her death and the role of homeopathy in the events leading up to her death.
Returning to the broader question of homeopathy being safe, I’ve found the view that homeopathy is safe, and that you can’t overdose on it, is not a universal opinion in the world of homeopathy.
Take this quote:
The objectors forget that, although the medicaments are attenuated to a point which makes it impossible to recognise their colour, taste, or smell, yet it does by no means follow that their qualities should be diminished in the same proportion. On the contrary, they are so much developed and augmented by the process already spoken of, that it is unnecessary, and it would, in some cases, be dangerous, to administer them in larger quantities.
So there you have it: in some cases, larger quantities of homeopathic preparations can be dangerous. No evidence or references are given to help identify or quantify cases where they might be dangerous. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: it would indeed be possible to drown in a large tank of homeopathic solution. The writer says “to administer” homeopathy, but I’m not sure putting someone in a tank is quite what the writer had in mind.
Expert opinion can be valid and should be taken into consideration, particularly where it can be backed up with good evidence.
So where did this expert comment come from?
In the lesser known dark alleyways of the internet I found a scan of this old homeopathy book which contained the above quote.
According to another pro-homeopathy website, Paul Francois Curie was one of the first men to bring homeopathy to the English-speaking world, and he was a close colleague of Samuel Hahnemann.
The 10:23 overdose campaign is not really an experiment, but more in the nature of a public educational stunt. About 350 people took an overdose of homeopathic medicine at the QED conference in the UK on the weekend of the 5th of February, 2011. Many more again took an overdose at events around the world. In Australia there were 10:23 overdose events in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Bell’s Beach and here in Melbourne. And what happened? …Well, nothing.
Commonsense and science tells us that medication dosage is important. Prescription sleeping pills taken in the wrong dosage can be lethal. However, in the right dosage, a person who needs them and has them prescribed by their local MD, can get a very satisfactory and healthy night’s sleep.
In this regard Paul Curie is right: taking an overdose appears to be dangerous. However Paul Curie was writing at a time when opinion and anecdote counted for more than experiment, although perhaps things have improved only slightly in 200 years.
I think I’ll just leave this one to the homeopaths to debate. Homeopathy is called a traditional alternative medicine; it doesn’t move forward in the way science-based medicine does; it’s fixed in the past. Paul Curie is regarded as a pioneer of homeopathy. To a homeopath, how valid is Paul Curie’s assertion? Is overdosing on homeopathy dangerous or not?