A brief, diluted homeopathic interlude

I was out late last night due to the call of duty. By the time I got home, it was too late, and I was too beat to provide you with the heapin’ helpin’ of Insolence, Respectful or not-so-Respectful, that I usually do. Nor did I have time to draft a substantive reply to Dr. Zilberberg, who is in the comments and apparently very unhappy that I criticized her for her tendency towards dualism and her repeating various things that sound similar to some of the favorite gambits of the anti-vaccine movement. I had basically had the temerity to suggest to Dr. Zilberberg that, if she doesn’t want to be perceived as anti-vaccine, it might be a good idea for her to familiarize herself with anti-vaccine rhetoric and then use that knowledge to learn how to avoid saying things that sound anti-vaccine. Surprisingly, she didn’t take my suggestion well. In any case, I’ll get around to answering her again eventually. Probably.

In the meantime, here’s a story that’s both disturbing and hilarious at the same time. Apparently there are counterfeiters who are making fake homeopathic drugs:

We have a bad news for the vast majority of our people who often take recourse to homeopathy treatment for illness. Taking advantage of widespread use of homeopathy drugs, a section of unscrupulous traders is engaged in faking those products endangering health of patients.

The faking of homeopathy drugs, a common act of deception, came to the fore when early last week a team of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) raided a factory at Babubazar area in old Dhaka city which was producing spurious remedies. The RAB arrested five people from the spot who were found engaged in making fake medicines. About 1200 litres of rectified spirit, 18 drums containing ethanol, a highly concentrated alcohol, were seized. The RAB team also recovered huge quantity of labels of various foreign and local brands of homeopathy medicines. The arrested workers of the factory, owned by one Hero Kamal who managed to escape, were pasting those labels on the bottles.

The story is also reported here.

My question, of course, is that if these were really homeopathic medications, how on earth would anyone be able to tell the difference between the counterfeit versions and the real versions? Of course, the ethanol is sometimes used instead of water to dilute homeopathic remedies. (I wonder why homeopaths never explain the memory of ethanol?) In any case, what this whole operation sounds like is a moonshine operation more than a fake medicine operation. On the other hand, I suppose people could use these spirits, if they properly dilute them, to get drunk, assuming they aren’t adulterated with methanol.

As much as we laugh at the inherent ridiculousness of homeopathy, in which most remedies are diluted to the point that it is exceedingly unlikely that even a single molecule of active ingredient remains, it is, however, important to remember that not all homeopathic are inert or harmless. For instance, just this weekend, the FDA issued a warning about Hyland’s Teething Tablets:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today is warning consumers that Hyland’s Teething Tablets may pose a risk to children. The FDA recommends that consumers not use this product and dispose of any in their possession. The manufacturer is issuing a recall of this product.

Hyland’s Teething Tablets are manufactured to contain a small amount of belladonna, a substance that can cause serious harm at larger doses. For such a product, it is important that the amount of belladonna be carefully controlled. FDA laboratory analysis, however, has found that Hyland’s Teething Tablets contain inconsistent amounts of belladonna. In addition, the FDA has received reports of serious adverse events in children taking this product that are consistent with belladonna toxicity. The FDA has also received reports of children who consumed more tablets than recommended, because the containers do not have child resistant caps.

Hyland’s Teething Tablets are one of the “weaker” homeopathic remedies in that it is only 3X. An “X” dilution is only 1:10; so a 3X dilution is a 1:1000 dilution. Clearly, it’s quite possible to have active remedy left after only a 1:1000 dilution. In the Bizarro World of Homeopathy, it’s actually the “weaker” homeopathic dilutions (such as 3X) that you have to be more careful with. It’s such “weak” homeopathic dilutions that might contain actual active drug.