Sceptics take mass overdose to prove homeopathy is a hoax

Sceptics overdosed on homeopathy pills to prove their point. Photo: Anneka James

Protesters have staged a mass “overdose” of homeopathic pills outside Boots stores around the country to prove that the remedies have no effects.

The protest, which took place on Saturday, January 30th, was run by the 10.23 group, named after Italian chemist Amedeo Avogadro’s number which determines the amount of molecules in a given solution. The group was set up by the Merseyside Skeptics Society, one of a number of linked skeptic groups from around the country joining together for the protest.

The 10.23 group sent an open letter to Boots in January, imploring them to remove homeopathic treatments from their shelves. They argue that Boots, as a respected and trusted retailer, has a responsibility to their customers to sell products that work. In the letter to the company, the group points to evidence that Boots recently gave to the Commons Science and Technology Committee, where the company admitted that they believe homeopathic remedies do not work.

According to the British Homeopathic Association’s (BHA) website, homeopathy works on the principle of “like cures like”. What this means is that a tiny amount of a substance will cure the symptoms of what a large amount of that substance would cause. In effect this means that in homeopathic practice water dilutes the “active ingredient” until there is little or none of it left. The BHA explains that the more dilute the solution, the more “potent” the treatment.

The pills sold in Boots must be extremely powerful then, by this thinking. Matt Parker from the School of Mathematical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London explains in The Times, referring to arnica homeopathy pills: “The arnica is diluted so much that there is only one molecule of it per 7 million billion billion billion billion pills.”

Martin Robbins, a spokesman for the 10.23 group, disputes the claims of the BHA and says that the purpose of the protest is to make people aware of what homeopathy actually is and the dangers of it being stocked in shops like Boots. He says: “The pills themselves may be harmless, but there is a real indirect danger to public health. For a major registered pharmacy like Boots to sell the products alongside real medicine suggests to the public that homeopathy is somehow equivalent to medicine, or an acceptable alternative.”

One participant, Dale Williams, who “overdosed” in Leeds, explains that many people have a real misunderstanding of what homeopathy actually is. He says they view homeopathy as some sort of herbal medicine, but in fact all it is water and sugar, with no active ingredients and no clinical effect, apart from the placebo effect. He also points to the findings of a BBC Newsnight investigation from 2006 which found that holiday-makers were being advised by homeopaths to stop taking anti-malarial drugs and instead take homeopathic treatments, which are completely ineffective against a disease like malaria. The disease killed 863,000 people in 2008 according to the World Health Organisation.

As well as convincing retailers like Boots to stop selling homeopathic treatments, the 10.23 group is eager to bring an end to homeopathy on the NHS. Robbins explains that the NHS spends over £4m a year on homeopathic treatments, the equivalent to the salaries of 200 nurses.

Unfortunately, although the British Homeopathic Association were contacted, no one from the organisation was available for comment. On their website the organisation claims: “There is a substantial and growing body of published research in good quality peer-reviewed journals showing that homeopathy has a positive effect,” although this is much disputed.