Homeopathy: Watering Down Mental Health Issues

April 22, 2010

Samuel Hahnemann, the father of pseuscientific nonsense

In case you weren't aware of it, we're just wrapping up Homeopathy Awareness Month here in Canada.  CFI Canada's Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism had a front section nearly full page piece in Tuesday's National Post .  Check that out and read this well researched piece by a colleague:    

Homeopathy: Watering Down Mental Health Issues
By: Lauren O’Driscoll, for the CFI’s Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism

           Toronto, Ont. (April 22, 2010) — World Homeopathy Awareness Week (WHAW) 2010, celebrated worldwide from April 10th to April 16th, was aimed at promoting homeopathic awareness through free lectures, events, displays and various other promotions. The theme for this year’s campaign was "Mental Well Being: Mind and Body in Balance". WHAW was being hosted nationally by The Canadian Society of Homeopaths (CSH), who suggest that homeopathy can treat mental health concerns by restoring mind-body harmony. The CSH claim that homeopathy may be used as an effective treatment for anxiety, behavioural problems, depression, compulsive disorders, eating disorders, phobias, grief, hyperactivity and insomnia.

            How does this ‘miracle cure’ work? Homeopathic theory was first introduced in the late 18th century, before modern scientific theories of genetic heredity, molecular biology, germ theory, and the chemical underpinnings of human physiology were developed. Homeopathy is based upon the archaic Law of Similars, referred to as “like cures like”, which holds that a substance causing certain symptoms can also be used as a cure for similar symptoms in a sick patient. For example, Arsenicum alum, a diluted form of the poisonous metalloid arsenic, is a homeopathic remedy commonly prescribed for the treatment of mental health problems including anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder. These homeopathic preparations are diluted to the extent that treatments usually contain less than one molecule of the original active substance per dose. In order to explain how a preparation can work without containing even a single molecule of active ingredient, homeopaths suggest that the diluted remedies are effective because they contain a magical “energetic life force” or a “memory” of the original substance. Perceived advantages of the use of homeopathy in the treatment of mental health problems include a lack of adverse effects and safety against overdose, presumably because the preparations are composed entirely of water.

            As a result of the magical thinking and the lack of scientific basis behind the principles of homeopathy, it has been unsuccessful in gaining legitimacy within scientific and medical communities. Although countless studies have been conducted on the effects of homeopathy in the treatment of mental health problems, few randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have been completed to date. The vast majority of efficacy studies have been uncontrolled or observational, primarily focusing on single case reports. Contemporary systematic reviews of the research, conducted by Dr. Pilkington and colleagues in the UK, failed to demonstrate the efficacy of homeopathy as a treatment for depression or anxiety disorders. Similarly, recent Cochrane Reviews conclude that there is no evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or dementia. Essentially the only reliable finding regarding the effects of homeopathy in treating mental health problems has been subjective reports of high levels of patient satisfaction. As a result, homeopaths are sustained by inappropriate research methodology and anecdotes from their own clinical experience. 

            Homeopathy proponents may claim that patient satisfaction and symptom improvements related to the placebo effect, a phenomenon where people tend to feel better after using an inactive or bogus treatment, are enough to declare that the treatment is beneficial. It is important to note, however, that there is no guarantee that any individual will benefit from placebo in any particular case. Notably, a recent review by Nuhn and colleagues in Germany demonstrated that the placebo effect associated with homeopathic remedies is not larger than placebo effects associated with conventional medicine. In turn, the continued use of unvalidated homeopathic remedies in place of empirically verified treatments can result in wasted money and delayed improvement. As indicated by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), individuals with mental health concerns who receive effective treatment early on are less likely to experience reoccurring episodes and have a better long-term prognosis. As a result, the vast majority of health care professionals and medical scientists oppose the practice of homeopathy, warning that there is not enough evidence to recommend homeopathy for the effective treatment of mental health concerns.

        A recent survey of alternative medicine users by Davidson and colleagues conducted in the UK and the US, demonstrated that individuals diagnosed with psychiatric disorders are among the most frequent homeopathy consumers. Accordingly, the campaign for homeopathy as a treatment for mental health concerns by WHAW is problematic in that it targets vulnerable populations with pseudo-scientific and invalidated claims. The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that endorsing homeopathy as a viable treatment for mental health concerns is irresponsible and unethical. Alternatively, the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) recommends that individuals seeking treatment for mental health problems should see registered professionals, namely licensed psychologists and psychiatrists. This ensures that the practitioner has undergone specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems, and provides a high standard of care rooted in scientific evidence.  The last thing patients with mental health concerns should worry about is the credibility of their health care professional.

For additional information on the news that is the subject of this release, contact Michael Kruse at (416) 737-4960.

About the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism (CASS) and the Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFI):
CASS  is a national, fast response team which critically engages with scientific, technological and medical claims made in public discourse. We address factual inaccuracies and misinformation in public debates by promoting evidence-based science. CASS is a subset of CFI. CFI is the leading freethought organization in Canada promoting reason, science, secularism and freedom of inquiry.


Michael Kruse, Co-Chair and Spokesperson
Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism
(416) 737-4960
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Samuel Hahnemann, the father of nonsense