Skepticism

US Politicians Want Less Regulations on Snake Oil “Medicine” During a Pandemic

This post contains a video, which you can also view here. To support more videos like this, head to patreon.com/rebecca!

Look, I’m not one of those jerks who shames people because whatever cause they care about isn’t what I think is the absolute most important cause to care about right now. You can definitely care about multiple things at once! Like, I can worry about the fate of women in now-Taliban-controlled Afghanistan at the same time that I’m worried about the fate of women in now-abortion-is-outlawed Texas.

But! Maybe the middle of a pandemic isn’t the best time for 25 congress critters to petition the FDA to be less strict about homeopathic products.

I mean, it’s never a good time to do that because homeopathy is bullshit, but the middle of a pandemic is absolutely the worst time.

It’s been awhile since my last video about homeopathy so let me just give you the overview of what homeopathy is. A lot of people think homeopathy is just “natural medicine,” like herbs and essential oils and whatnot, but it’s not! It’s a specific well-defined long-debunked form of quackery based on two completely bonkers ideas: first, that “like cures like,” so if you have diarrhea you should take something that causes diarrhea; if you have an itchy rash you should eat some poison ivy. That kind of thing. 

The second principle is that the more you dilute something, the stronger it gets. So, eating the poison ivy wouldn’t do much, but if you dip the leaf in a swimming pool and then take an eyedropper from the swimming pool and put it in the ocean and then take an eyedropper of water from the ocean and put that under your tongue, bam, that’s strong shit. Homeopathic treatments are usually diluted so much that there’s not a single molecule of the original substance left in the product that ends up on the shelf.

Because homeopathic products (when manufactured in the “correct” way) don’t do anything (good or bad), the US’s Food and Drug Administration has opted to not regulate them the way they do other things you put in your body. In 1988 they published guidelines that basically said “So long as you’re just selling sugar pills and you don’t market them as cure-alls, you can sell your bullshit without us bothering you.” 

The problem is that with a complete lack of regulation and no pressing need for quality control, some homeopathic products weren’t diluted enough and ended up hitting shelves containing real active ingredients. One of the worst cases happened in 2017 when Standard Homeopathic Company was found to be selling Hyland’s baby teething tablets that contained belladonna, aka deadly nightshade. In tablets for babies. 

You may also remember Zicam, a “homeopathic” nasal spray that ended up with trace amounts of zinc, which caused the loss of smell (sometimes permanent) in consumers who used it. There have also been eye drops manufactured in “non-sterile production conditions,” pet products with microbial contamination, and liquids, tablets, capsules, ointments, and suppositories that accidentally contained penicillin. And all of that is in addition to products with absolutely nothing in them marketed for things like asthma, which could result in someone dying because they took that instead of using a real inhaler.

After all that bulllshit, and a lot of pushback from scientists and critical thinkers, the FDA has finally moved forward on implementing real regulations on homeopathic products. They’ve rescinded their 1988 guideline and have proposed new, more serious guidance that will force homeopathic products to prove they’re safe and effective. As of now, all homeopathic products are being sold illegally, and so the FDA can step in at any time and stop a company from selling any product they want, since homeopathic products aren’t effective unless it’s in liquid form and promising to cure mild dehydration.

This is an unqualified good move on the FDA’s part, even though they don’t have the funding or staff to bring down all homeopathic treatments. What they can do, though, is start outlawing products based on a tiered system of how dangerous they are to consumers. For instance, if a product says it has belladonna in it (even if the stated dilution makes it impossible for any belladonna molecules to still be in the product), the FDA will require the manufacturer to prove that it’s safe and effective or else it can’t be sold.

They will also regulate products that aren’t administered orally or topically (look out, microbe-infested butt suppositories!), products that claim to treat serious diseases, and products marketed toward vulnerable populations like the elderly.

That all makes sense when you understand that homeopathy is nonsense and when you don’t make all your money from homeopathic products. Unfortunately, 25 of our congresscritters apparently either don’t understand what homeopathy is or do make money from homeopathic products, which resulted in this frankly embarrassing letter to the FDA written by California congressman Ro Khanna and signed by 24 representatives. The signees included both Dems and Republicans, proving that we can all come together to fight against the regulation of bullshit.

If any of you recognize one of these people as YOUR representative from New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Florida, New York, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Washington, Michigan, Colorado, South Carolina, Maine, Maryland, and Montana, please contact them and let them know that homeopathy is bullshit and shouldn’t be sold as unregulated medicine to gullible and sometimes desperate people.

Ro Khanna (D-CA)

Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

Mike Lee (R-UT)

Andy Biggs (R-AZ)

Gus Bilirakis (R-FL)

Jamaal Bowman (D-NY)

Tony Cárdenas (D-CA)

John Carter (R-TX)

Antonio Delgado (D-NY)

Dwight Evans (D-PA)

Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA)

Paul Gosar (R-AZ)

Glenn Grothman (R-WI)

Diana Harshbarger (R-TN)

Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA)

Andy Levin (D-MI)

Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY)

Lisa McClain (R-MI)

Joe Neguse (D-CO)

Ralph Norman (R-SC)

Chellie Pingree (D-ME)

Jamie Raskin (D-MD)

Matt Rosendale (R-MT)

Thomas R. Suozzi (D-NY)

John Yarmuth (D-KY)

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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One Comment

  1. The 1938 Food and Drug Act was sponsored by Senator Royal Copeland, a ‘real’ Homeopathic doctor, who personally ensured that his brand of nonsense was exempted from regulation. At that time, there were only a couple of hundred MDs from homeopathic ‘medical schools’ still operating in the U.S.

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