There are likely to be many reasons why consumers choose to buy homeopathic remedies. The marketing of homeopathy as “natural and gentle” probably helps. I suspect that ignorance and confusion also play a part.
In this blog post, a Daily Mail article on homeopathy is criticised for its ambiguity. The author of the post, Buffy, describes herbal and homeopathic medicines and points to the significant differences between the two. Something the Mail neglected.
The Mail article is about the 10:23 campaign and refers to a plan to “overdose” on homeopathic remedies. It then goes on to list “remedies including arnica, St John’s wort, flower remedies and calendula cream”, but neglects to point out that there is quite a significant difference between St John’s wort and homeopathic St John’s wort (ditto arnica, calendula… or any other ingredient that is not actually present in highly-diluted homeopathic remedies).
Ordinary, herbal St John’s wort contains active ingredients that can affect the body in various ways. The high dilutions of St John’s wort being sold as homeopathic remedies do not contain active ingredients. While homeopathic St John’s wort may not have the side-effect profile of the herbal variety (such as the issue of interaction with medicines), nor does it have the beneficial effects attributed to herbal St John’s wort.
Overdosing on highly-dilute homeopathic remedies should be pretty safe – after all, they are likely to contain not a single molecule of the “active ingredient” at dilutions above 12C. Overdosing on herbal remedies, on the other hand, could be dangerous. Even the use of herbal remedies at recommended levels is not risk-free (e.g., the interaction with medicines seen in St John’s wort).
I suspect that the ambiguity that we see in discussions of homeopathy, herbalism, and other forms of alternative medicine affects the way that people view homeopathy.
At the same time, many homeopathic remedies are made using actual herbal remedies. How are consumers supposed to understand what homeopathic St John’s wort is, what it is supposed to do, whether it actually does have the intended effect, or what the difference is between herbal and homeopathic St John’s wort?
Unless the difference between herbal and homeopathic remedies is made clear, it is likely that some people at least will confuse the two. The Mail fail to make the difference clear and those blogging on this failure to clearly distinguish between herbal and homeopathic remedies will not reach the many Mail readers who have seen the article in question.
I suspect that this public confusion around herbalism and homeopathy, along with ignorance of (a) the nature of homeopathy and (b) the state of the evidence regarding homeopathy, may account for a not-insignificant proportion of the market for homeopathic remedies.
The question is: will raising awareness of an utterly implausible treatment that is made up of magic water remedies (that have apparently been made magic by banging them on a special book), and has no good evidence of efficacy, make a difference to potential consumers?
Perhaps the only way to find out is to try to raise awareness. It may be that the 10:23 campaign will have the desired effect and make people aware of the nature of homeopathy – perhaps even persuading consumers to rethink their purchasing of magic pills and potions. We shall soon see.