No, I haven’t lost my mind – rather that I’ve become convinced that while millions of people can be wrong, that simple dismissal isn’t enough to explain the attraction of homeopathy. We know it works for certain values of ‘works’, because of the placebo effect, which isn’t particularly well understood yet but understood enough to acknowledge it exists. The jury is somewhat out on whether or not it’s ethical to exploit the placebo effect, but regardless, it’s not going away. Homeopathy probably works because the patient feels better simply for having done something, has little actually wrong with them in the first place (at least, little medically wrong), and because the patient is lavished in attention. Who doesn’t like attention? Myself, I love attention, no surprises there, and I also suffer from something that medical doctors call TATT (Tired All The Time). I’m tired all the time because I work ridiculously long hours and hardly ever take a day off. It’s not a medical problem, it’s a lifestyle one, but I’d like to have my cake and eat it. I think that makes me an ideal candidate for homeopathy.
In addition, I already take SSRIs. This is controversial, but there is good evidence that they are little more than placebo. They contain little active ingredient, and work no better than placebo for mild to moderate depression in clinical trials. Added to that, I felt better the very next morning after taking the first one, which is far too soon for a chemical effect. It was a placebo effect. I am aware of this and yet still take them, because they work. Replace ‘SRRI’ with ‘homeopathy’ and you have a familiar argument.
So, what seems clear here is that the placebo effect is mighty, and in many cases works even when the patient is aware of it. SSRIs are prescribed without any placebo warning, as is homeopathy. There are interesting dilemmas here. Being a willing participant in placebo myself, I think investigating homeopathy first hand to see why so many people swear by it will be a very useful exercise. How else can I continue to protest it in good conscience? My problem with homeopathy is that it doesn’t work as claimed. If it was sold as a placebo, with full patient education about its lack of content and no nonsense about water memory, I couldn’t rightly object to it, as long as patients were very clear about what it works for, when, and why. But I read a lot about what homeopaths claim without any personal insight into the process at all. I’m off to remedy that, excuse the pun. I’ll report back, no doubt with horror, but at least with some first-hand experience of the thing I’m protesting. Wish me lu…good health!