I haven’t been back to this blog for awhile. That whole pesky “life” thing, you know. Anyway.
A day or so ago on Twitter I noticed remarks from the Faux Skeptic/True Atheist crowd, on the subject of homeopathy. For those who don’t know, homeopathic medicine is an entire and elaborate school of medicine, but for most of the Faux Skeptics it’s just shorthand for herbal medicine. And herbs, we all know, are completely useless and have no properties and there has never been scientific research done on them and they absolutely do nothing for anyone at all, except the part where none of that is true.
There are REAMS of scientific research— let me define that, actual studies, in labs, by scientists, that are then peer-reviewed and published and the whole lot— on herbs. However a lot of it isn’t done or published in the United States. Most is done in Europe, and we all know those Europeans are totally backwards and uneducated and have no modern medicine over there and have never innovated anything medically ever, excpet the part where none of THAT is true.
The studies that ARE done in the United States seem to fall into two categories: in the first category, a major pharmaceutical company (99% of the time) decides to research not an herb but a CLAIM about an herb, so let’s take echinacea. Echinacea is a very well researched herb, actually— in EUROPE. But in the U.S., where it has been used well before white people ever showed up around here, it hasn’t had a lot of serious research. And since American research is the only research that counts, well. But one kind of research that American pharmaceutical companies have done is the half-assed kind made for reports on the evening news, and here’s how those work:
1. Take a false claim made by non-herbalists, like “Echinacea! It cures the common cold! Buy it from us here at Mass Produced Outlet Health Foody Thing Store! You’ll Feel Better We Swear!”
2. Make sure to never mention that actual herbalists don’t think there is a cure for the common cold, and that echinacea isn’t a cure for the common cold, and that there’s plenty of research showing what this herb actually DOES do.
3. Prove echinacea doesn’t cure the common cold.
4. And then say LOOK HOMEOPATHY DOES NOT WORK! Buy our Mass Produced Chemical Stuff Instead You’ll Feel Better We Swear!
There’s a secondary step you can take in this type of “research”, and that is you can make sure to not use correct dosages, or the correct plant. For example, in the case of many studies on echinacea, the plant echinacea purpea is NOT used, but other less potent strains are. Also, just to be on the safe side, the experiments are always conducted using far lower dosages than an herbalist would recommend for what echinacea is actually for— which is not curing the common cold, by the way, it’s for helping to prevent catching one, among other things. Once the cold is underway, you gotta ride it out. But just in case you might avoid even catching a cold and therefore show echinacea has some usefulness, by all means, make sure to not use it correctly when conducting an American experiment.
In a way, though, that’s fair, because the makers of most so-called “herbal supplements” and “natural remedies” that you can go buy in any store? Those particular pills are highly suspect to begin with. It’s not that homeopathy doesn’t work— it’s that the vast majority of people who think they are trying it? Aren’t really trying it at all. Wrong plants, substandard extracts, wrong dosages, inaccurate claims, all of that is being peddled as homeopathic medicine when, in truth, the vast majority of it is no such thing. But I digress.
(Incidentally, for those homeopath skeptics who like to accuse those who have been helped by real herbal remedies of just benefitting from the Placebo Effect, let me explain something. You don’t know what the term “placebo” means, apparently. Placebo Effect is something that can largely only be determined in a controlled setting, because it is only had in control groups. The true Placebo Effect is had when the person participating in the test doesn’t know which group they belong to. You can measure the effect at that point. Someone who knows what they are taking who gets a result from it is not necessarily experiencing the Placebo Effect, and in fact at that point there’s no way of telling. This is one reason why you don’t tell folks testing drugs or herbs what they are taking.)
There’s one other type of study being done CONSTANTLY on an herb in the United States. In fact, one might argue this study is one of the best studies ever done upon any herb in all of human history, and even better, this study is being done both inside and outside the lab, and has been documented pretty well for close to one hundred years. That study is on marijuana— specifically the homeopathic uses for the herbs cannibis indica and cannibis sativa. This is textbook homeopathy, and one we should take a good look at before looking at skeptics spouting off ignorant comments and saying Wow you are amazingly intellectual why oh why didn’t I see this before?
1. Pharmaceutical companies haven’t been able to hijack the conversation about marijuana’s usefulness, because too many people have grown it themselves and used it. Most people don’t grow their own echinacea (though a surprising number do, they just don’t know it. I see it growing in gardens around here all the time. But again, I digress.) Many people grow their own pot.
2. No one can say marijuana doesn’t do anything at all, because the GOVERNMENT has made such a big stinking deal about it for such a long time. At various points in American history, marijuana was the destroyer of all decency and civilization. It would cause the breakdown of the family, race-mixing, homosexuality, the undermining of authority, the destruction of all church-related values. It would create sweeping waves of suicide, irresponsibility, mental illness, refusal to buckle down and participate in wars and Elk’s Lodges. It would cause Satanism and Paganism and Thrill Kill Cults to flourish. I mean, marijuana is some bad-ass shit. Except that part where it isn’t. However all of the propaganda is, without a doubt, rooted in the scientific fact that marijuana does SOMETHING.
3. Pharmaceutical companies have been desperately attempting to separate out all the things about marijuana that make it useful as a drug. They want to remove the properties the government arbitrarily finds objectionable, like THC, for example, and see if it still works as well. This has been a disaster. It doesn’t work at all when you separate all the component parts. And, again, people know this, because a lot of people smoke pot.
4. Marijuana is not illegal everywhere. In fact it’s not even illegal everywhere in America anymore, at least at the state level. Consequently doctors are prescribing it— maybe even overprescribing it, but hey, less dangerous than the average pharma creation, so whatever— and people who need it are using it. And it works.
5. It worked before research was ever done on it. It works in spite of being demonized, in spite of research being manipulated by political/law enforcement forces, it has worked for thousands of years. It is, like all herbs, both benign and dangerous. (All herbs have side effects— in fact it’s interesting so many anti-homeopath types natter on at length about how dangerous herbs can be, but in every other regard they claim they are useless.) Marijuana has been used by indigenous people with great success. Marijuana, being unregulated due to being, you know, illegal and all, has not been standardized in terms of dosage, and yet it still works. New research shows it is such a successful anti-inflammatory, in fact, that you can smoke it like a chimney, and guess what? You ain’t getting lung cancer. It’s good for pain caused by injury and illness, for pain and nausea caused by cancer treatments and AIDs drugs, for relieving depression and migraines, for easing the symptoms of glaucoma. It helps people who can’t be helped by any other means, certainly not by anything pharmaceutical companies have come up with. It doesn’t destroy the environment. It’s a beautiful plant. And, hey, since we’re on the subject, guess what?
IT’S TOTALLY HOMEOPATHIC.
My basic working theory about atheism in general and skepticism (you don’t have to be an atheist to be a skeptic, by the way) in particular, is this:
Humans aren’t really good at having no beliefs, so skepticism, for many, becomes a new belief form. It’s really not skepticism at that point. It’s Contrarianism. And as we’ve all witnessed from those who have determined that, say, Global Climate Change isn’t happening, this is an irrational belief. It’s not based in science. It’s based in desire.
In the case of skeptics who like to target homeopathy, first, much like those who like to target Tarot readers, none of them know what they are talking about. If they did, that would be one thing. There’s a lot to target in the Tarot community, and in the Herbalist community. I’d love to permanently root out all the New-Agey Karma/Religion based Faux Pagan crap that has infiltrated both camps, I would. As someone who is in fact naturally skeptical, I can sense bullshit at thirty paces. It’s one reason why I’m good at spotting bullshit among atheists and skeptics as well.
I’m a person who has suffered from a few specific health problems since adolescence. That’s right— Lady Problems. The worst kind. Mostly because of the absolute lack of knowledge, to this day, among allopathic medical practionioners. Most medical doctors don’t know shit about the uterus, they know nothing about periods, they have not a clue. Women entering the field of medicine has not changed this fact, as yet. I STILL get medical professionals telling me, contrary to all that science understands about the physiology of the female body, that the menstrual cycle is a totally passive emptying-out of unused baby housing. That because the uterus is only the size of a small pear, my descriptions can’t be true. That it’s all in my head. Cuz, well, I’m a lady.
It’s funny to me that atheists, skeptics, and even feminist atheists basically fall back to this same position when it comes to the subject of homeopathy. It’s all in your head. It’s the placebo effect (see above for why that is bullshit). IT DOESN’T WORK BECAUSE IT CAN’T WORK BECAUSE I DON’T BELIEVE IT WORKS. That’s pretty much the summation of that position. Never mind research, science, medical journals, history, your own experience (oh no! not your own personal experience! That’s not anything!). You have to distrust all of that, listen to only limited information from limited sources, and
I guess BELIEVE.
To which I can only say, No.