Planning the Perfect Overdose

In preparing to overdose with fellow friends and skeptics in concert with the world wide 10:23 campaign one of the things I had to do was decide what to overdose with. I put some thought into it. Actually, I put a lot of thought into it.

I reasoned that if I took the time to pick my homeopathic death carefully, I could get a sense of how homeopaths and their supporters think. One of many curiosities is that homeopaths produce reams of reference information and advice, despite not having any credible evidence that homeopathy works for anything, nor any plausibility to speak of. Every kind of product you can think of is available (and some you just can’t), and my task was to pick one and try to die.

My research has taken me to places on the internet I wish I have never been. It takes an extraordinary amount of concentration and patience to read through the literature that homeopaths produce. However, my task was an important one and I wanted to be rigorous. Here’s an account of what I did and what I found out.

Searching the (ahem) “Literature”

The substance I choose should theoretically kill me or at least severely incapacitate me. A sleeping pill at a high “potency” should do the trick. So what kinds of substances do homeopaths suggest for insomnia and sleeplessness? Here’s some recommendations from holisticonline.com :

• Arnica
• Aconite
• Arsenicum album
• Calcerea phosphorica
• Causticum
• Chamomilla
• Cocculus
• Coffea
• Equisetum
• Ignatia
• Kali phos
• Lachesis
• Muriaticum acidum
• Nux vomica
• Opium
• Pulsatilla
• Sepia
• Sulphur
• Thuja

Of course there are 19 unrelated sleep inducing substances. Homeopathy seems to exist in some kind of Fantasia-like universe where an infinite list of insomnia symptoms are each matched to a specific substance. I’m surprised the list isn’t longer. Reading through the list and the accompanying descriptions yields an interesting contradiction. The description for chamomilla:

For the person who exhibits irritability, peevishness, and restlessness. It is an antidote for overuse of coffee. Exhibits sleeplessness and restlessness during the first part of the night. They have frightening dreams.

It’s reasonable to suggest that person may have trouble sleeping if they’ve had too much coffee. However, coffee is on the list as a suitable match for sleeplessness as well:

Coffea, the homeopathic remedy made from the coffee bean, is very useful in cases of sleeplessness when the mind is awake and working. Shows inability to relax due to the overexcitement caused by good news or ideas. Vivid dreams, overactive mind, overexcitement. The thoughts are not fixed on a disappointment, but nevertheless the nervous system seems to be overexcited, as if from drinking too much coffee. Take 3X to 200X for insomnia following too much coffee drinking.

Okay, so I can take either chamomilla or coffea and both will work for having too much coffee. I take more coffee for overconsumption of coffee. These are some seriously magic beans.

Anything Goes

But wait a second. I thought that what causes symptoms in a healthy person is what cures it in a sick one. Chamomile isn’t reputed to be a stimulant. I also thought that when provings are conducted by homeopaths they use the substance that they are trying to investigate undiluted. It should be the case that homeopathic chamomile is used as a stimulant, not a sleep inducer.

It appears that provings are conducted with both undiluted and diluted substances (see this article where it’s noted that Hahnemann conducted the first proving with undiluted cinchona bark and later describes provings of diluted substances).

Provings are also admitted in homeopathy if they are accidentally carried out by a homeopath. If you’re a homeopath interested in conducting a proving on that LSD you bought and diluted 30 years ago you can do that too. You might feel in this case you need more data. Go ahead and add in the statements from a person who didn’t know that what they were doing was conducting a proving at all. (See the section “The Synthesis of LSD”).

In short, you can do whatever you want – even include the astrological chart of the exact moment that you created the essence of the rock for the proving; which incidentally you knew was medicinal, because your dream told you so. Note that the essence here was created by asking the rock to send its energy to the water. I’ll give you a minute to absorb that one.

Contradictions like the one observed between chamomilla and coffea are common because there is no standard that homeopaths use to decide whether something is valid. They’ll take whatever they want, and ignore, deny or misrepresent the rest.

The more substances you dilute the more magnificent fantasia becomes

The more substances you dilute the more magnificent fantasia becomes

The Confusion Continues

From the list alone, I was inclined to take an overdose of the ignatia amara touted elsewhere as homeopathic Prozac. My partner thought coffea was the way to go. Next step was sourcing our methods of death.
Remember Boiron? This is the company which was challenged to explain why the products they market in Canada are indistinguishable from sugar pills. They are apparently fine with taking your money in exchange for products that they have no way of identifying without the labels on the bottle. Boiron markets the 30CH dilutions of ignatia amara and coffea cruda in Canada and the bottles I purchased had Health Canada’s stamp of approval, meaning they’re “safe and effective”. Using the Natural Health Products Database I accessed the available information on the ignatia (search product 80007645 here) and the coffea (search product 80011496 here). Both searches revealed a discrepancy between the stated potency on the bottle (both 30CH) and the potencies that are registered with Health Canada under these DIN-HM numbers (3DH for the ignatia and 1DH for the coffea). So are these particular products approved? I can’t tell. I’m waiting for Health Canada to clarify.

Conclusion

It should be apparent by the appearance of this post that there was no effect whatsoever from ingesting all 80 pills contained in the cute little tubes. Diving into the rationale for the different remedies was revealing: no internal consistency and no sound basis for linking any substance to any condition. And by approving these products, Health Canada has put Canadians at risk: Telling consumers they should only look for products with a license and then providing inaccurate and/or inadequate information for the consumers who follow this advice. I think that Boiron would very much like that people have confidence that their products have what it states on the label. I challenge them to prove it.

4 Responses to “Planning the Perfect Overdose”

  1. Sarniaskeptic says:

    For those who have read this article but not clicked on the ‘give you a minute to absorb that one’ link – you need to go back and do so. Dianne was being nice when she gently pointed out how silly it is. It is even more silly than you can imagine.

    Great article, Dianne. I can’t wait to see what you write when that sleeping potion wears off and you’re not fighting to stay awake :)

    • Dianne Sousa says:

      Sarniaskeptic,

      I read every word of that proving. It was more effective as a sleep inducer than the ignatia, but I managed to persevere.

    • Chrios11 says:

      I tried to read through that article but I couldn’t. I found that I had to keep re-reading sentences just to keep the silliness somewhat strait. Needless to say I gave up, you must have mad Jedi skills to read through the entire article.

  2. Dianne Sousa says:

    Health Canada has clarified the licensure status of the two Boiron products I purchased. From their email:

    “Thank you for your Inquiry. This is a very valid question. It is not made clear for consumers on our Licensed Natural Health Products Database (LNHPD). For homeopathic medicines containing a single medicinal ingredient, one DIN-HM may apply to more than one homeopathic potency. In these cases, only the lowest homeopathic potency need be entered on the PLA form for evaluation. The DIN-HM assigned will apply to all homeopathic potencies higher than the one approved. As both of these products are single medicinal ingredient Homeopathic products and the Potencies 3DH and 1DH (Licensed potencies) are lower than 30CH, the DIN-HM is valid and is applicable for these products.

    We will be adding statements to the LNHPD to make it clear for consumers that it is acceptable for different potencies to be carried under the same DIN-HM.”

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  • Dianne Sousa

    Dianne holds a degree from the University of Guelph in criminal justice, public policy and social psychology. She became involved in the skeptical movement after becoming disillusioned with the addictions counselling field. Skeptical topics of interest include alternative medicine and it's regulation in Canada, pseudoscience and the law and skeptical activism. She also crochets extensively and enjoys bad film, usually at the same time. Follow me on twitter: @DianneSousa. All views expressed by Dianne are her personal views alone, and do not represent the opinions of any current, former or future employers, or any organizations or associations that she may be affiliated with.