Saturday, February 23, 2008


Quackery and the Law

In the United States all products marketed as drugs must be tested in order to guarantee their relative safety before being made available to the public. There is one exception to this law. Homeopathic 'remedies' can be marketed as drugs but are except from the same safety standards as other drugs.

This goes back to 1938 when a former homeopath-turned-Senator (Royal Copeland of New York) added a provision to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that exempted homeopathy from the same oversight by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that other drugs receive. Homeopathic 'remedies' require no proof that they're safe or effective in order to be marketed and sold, unlike other drugs.

Herbal and other supplements are in a different boat. If an herb or supplement is marketed with the claim that it will cure a disease or illness, then it must be reviewed by the FDA before going to market. If there's no claim to a cure, then the FDA doesn't really make an issue of it (unless the product has been shown to cause harm). Of course, one way to get around this is to use customer testimonials. As long as the customers are giving testimonials, and they reflect the customers' honest beliefs about their experiences, then it's fair game, but that's an issue for another blog.

The point is that homeopathic 'remedies' can claim to cure disease and illness (unlike herbs and supplements), and they don't need to be tested to prove that they actually work.

Robert L. Park, in his book Voodoo Science, points out that the smoking-cessation chewing gum Nicorette had to be proven safe and effective through numerous clinical trials before it could be marketed. Whereas on the same shelf in the same store you might find another smoking-cessation gum called CigArrest. This product required no clinical trials to test its safety and effectiveness because the manufacturers claimed that the gum was homeopathic.(1).

Since homeopathic 'remedies' have no active ingredients, there would be nothing to test for in a clinical trial. But homeopaths can still claim that it's a cure. As Park points out, locating the active ingredients in homeopathic 'remedies' "would be like trying to prove that holy water has been blessed."(2).

1. Park, Robert L. (2000). Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 58.

2. Ibid, p. 58.

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