Campaigners throughout the United Kingdom are to take part in a protest by taking a mass overdose of homeopathic medicine as part of a national bid to prove that the medicines are worthless.

The so-called overdoses will occur outside Boots (a large pharmacy chain) in Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hampshire, Leeds, Leicester, London, Liverpool, Manchester, Oxford and Sheffield. Boots sells homeopathic products and says it is committed to providing customers with a wide range of products. The company added that many people believed in complementary medicines.

Organizers say sympathy events will also take place in Australia, Canada, Spain and the USA.

One group, calling themselves the Edinburgh Skeptics said homeopathic medications were nothing more than ineffective sugar pills.

The protest is being organized by the Merseyside Skeptics Society MSS, a non-profit organization whose aim is to “develop and support the skeptical community.” Michael Marshall, MSS spokesperson, said “We believe that they shouldn’t be selling sugar pills to people who are sick. Homeopathy never works any better than a placebo. The remedies are diluted so much that there is nothing in them.” He took a product containing arsenic, but added that they are so diluted that the chances of finding one molecule of arsenic in the tablets were negligible.

Marshall added that shoppers trust Boots, a well known and reputable UK pharmacy chain, which should not be selling these products alongside other medications.

As homeopathic remedies are person specific, and doses are generally small, the Society of Homeopaths said the protesters should not have any reaction to their overdoses, unless somebody had symptoms linked to their remedy.

Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine. It was first proposed by Samual Hahnemann (1755 – 1843), a German physician in 1796. He proposed that patients could be treated with heavily diluted preparations of products which are thought to cause effects similar to their signs and symptoms.

Homeopathic medications are prepared by succession – a form of serial dilution with shaking by forceful striking after each dilution. It is assumed that this process makes the treatment more effective. The whole process is called potentization. Sometimes dilution continues until there is none of the original substance left.

Homeopaths use aspects of the patient’s physical and psychological state, as well as their symptoms when recommending remedies. Repertories (reference books) are consulted and a remedy is selected.

In the vast majority of cases homeopathic remedies are considered as safe. There have been some cases of arsenic toxicity. Although most homeopaths work alongside mainstream medicine, there have been cases where patients have been advised not to take proven treatments for some serious diseases (Malaria Advice Risks Lives, BBC).

Homeopathic treatments are recognized by the National Health Service (NHS), UK, which spends millions each year on it. The protesters say this is a waste of resources.

There are many interpretations. Put simply, orthodox treatments/medicine has been proven through well organized clinical trials, in which the treatment is compared with either another medication or a placebo (or both). Alternative medicines have not been proven, either because trials found no difference compared to a placebo, or proper trials have not yet been carried out.

Imagine that people claimed that placing a flag at the bottom of the garden helped get rid of flu faster – until proven, this would be an alternative treatment. However, if a proper clinical trial were carried out with a large group of people in several centers, comparing the use of the flag with a placebo, and it was found that the flag was significantly more effective and did not have serious side-effects, the flag treatment would become orthodox medicine as soon as the authorities studied the results of the trials and approved its use.

Written by Christian Nordqvist