Canadian Pharmacists caught selling Sugar water as Magic Potions


Would a reputable pharmacist sell you sugar pills or sugar water and claim that it would magically cure you?

If you discovered that, you would quite rightly scream “fraud”.

It could never actually happen … right?


This is a very regular occurrence, not just in Canada, but globally. I’ll come to the CBC story regarding the Canadian Pharmacists shortly.

First, let me ask you a question.

What is Homeopathy?

Most people don’t actually know, and would perhaps assume that it is some form of an ancient herbal medicine.

That’s not what it is. I’ve covered this before, but since this misunderstanding is very common, I feel compelled to keep on describing just how utterly batshit crazy it really is.

Homeopathy consists of Remedies that will supposedly cure you of something. The “thinking” behind it is not ancient, but instead dates back to 1796. That was when a German doctor named Samuel Hahnemann dreamed up the concept.

While researching cinchona, the bark of a Peruvian tree as a cure for malaria, he discovered that taking the bark also created malaria like symptoms. This inspired him to conclude that “like cures like”, and so he developed and and then practised this approach. His homeopathy consisted of highly diluted solutions of the substances that supposedly caused the medical complaint.

These Homeopathy remedies are still commonly sold as treatments today.

Example: If you have trouble sleeping, then you will be given a Homeopathy remedy that has been made from coffee beans. I’m really not kidding, here is a link to a website explaining this. No, that last link does not take you to an actual Homeopathy website, but rather to a website run by a real doctor, and so it debunks it.

The other truly bizarre twist is that Homeopathy remedies are not simply diluted, but ultra diluted on a logarithmic scale.

To make our sleep remedy you start with 1 part of the raw ingredient, coffee beans, and you add to it 100 parts of water. You then vigorously mix with 10 hard strikes against an elastic body. This is called “succussion”. This is 1C. Now take 1 part of that 1C and add 100 parts of water, do the same and you have 2C. Keep repeating until you get to 30C.

The claim is that a greater dilution leads to a higher potency. These excessively diluted substances are considered by homeopaths to be stronger and deeper-acting remedies.

If I offered you 1¢ in exchange for $1 and claimed that this would dramatically increased your wealth, you would laugh in my face, yet this is literally what is going on here.

To help you wrap your head around this, a 12C solution is equivalent to a pinch of coffee in both the North and South Atlantic Oceans. 13C is the equivalent of just one single drop of that diluted in all the water on the planet.

Your 30C solution, which contains literally nothing, will then be packaged up and sold to you for 10 or even 20 bucks as a sleep cure.

Why does Homeopathy thrive and flourish today?

It does no harm at all. You are giving people literally nothing and so unlike a lot of other early medical practises that were harmful, this did nothing.

What it does do is tap into the placebo effect. People who believe it works, take it. A few days later. when they are naturally better, they conclude that it really worked.

If it did truly work and we did not understand why, then I would have no problem with it. It would be a fascinating area of research to work out why.

The truth is that it really does not work at all. All robust scientific studies that look into it confirm that it simply does not work. Talk to a homeopath and they will assure you that it does work, then cite studies that appear to confirm this. Dig a bit and what you find are deeply dubious and flawed studies.

It is in many respects, for those that are invested in the idea, emotionally and/or financially, akin to a medical religious cult. Any suggestion that it does not work is heresy. Facts however really are raw undiluted facts, independent study after study from all around the globe, all reach the same conclusion – it really does not work and is literally magical thinking.

OK, now that you are up to speed, let’s jump into the CBC news story.

What Happened in Canada?

CBC News ran the story on Nov 19. This is what they did …

Marketplace journalists approached pharmacists with a children’s homeopathic product that claims it’s for cough, runny nose, congestion, aches, pains and fever. Each pharmacist was asked if they would recommend it for a three-year-old child with cough and cold symptoms.

This is what happened …

Six out of 10 did recommend the homeopathic remedy and indicated it would help provide symptom relief. 

This is how the experts they consulted reacted …

“I think it’s really, really important to emphasize that the whole idea behind homeopathy is scientifically absurd,” said Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta. Unlike vitamins and supplements, there is no debate in the scientific literature about homeopathic remedies, Caulfield says. “Homeopathy is [an] over billion-dollar industry, selling sugar water.”

“It’s pseudoscience at its worst.”

If you don’t want to read the book, then they do also have a movie. Here is the actual CBC report. It is a clip that runs for 11 minutes …

Key things we learn

  • Most consumers don’t understand what Homeopathy is?
  • There exists an expectation that if it is on the shelf in the Pharmacy, and is approved by Health Canada, then it is medicine, not quackery. This tricks a lot of people into buying expensive ineffective treatments that do not work.
  • They visited 10 Pharmacists asking if a Homeopathy remedy they picked off the shelf was effective and would recommend it. Some said “No”, but most said it is good. – In a word, “Yikes”. What becomes clear is that many of the Pharmacists also don’t understanding what Homeopathy actually is.

Bottom Line

Some Pharmacists are literally recommending content-free sugar water as an effective medical treatment. This is not deliberate deception, but more probably an honest mistake. Pharmacists receive no training on what Homeopathy remedies are.

To find that it is like this perhaps means that regulatory common sense has been well and truly diluted right out of existence.

Further Reading

Questions for Commenters

  • Have you ever tried a Homeopathy Remedy?
  • What motivated you to give it a go?
  • How did you get on with it, do you feel that it did work for you?

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