Homeopathy Papers

Is The Homeopathic Cure A Placebo Effect?

Arnoldo Rivera
Written by Arnoldo Rivera

Dr. J. Arnoldo Rivera explains the illogic in critics of homeopathy calling the healing art a placebo. He refers to the Organon and to the various effects after taking homeopathic remedies.

That homeopathy cures through a placebo effect is a frequent opinion expressed by critics of this science who ignore its foundations. Like this they show that they have never carefully studied the works of the founder of homeopathy (Samuel Hahnemann), especially the Organon of the Healing Art, the Materia Medica Pura and the writings of other renowned homeopaths.

These critics base their opinions on mere conjectures, or on what they have heard from their teachers in medical schools, or on what others have written, or on papers published by unauthorized people on homeopathic themes, or only by following their materialistic points of view applied to health, disease and cure, or by only analyzing certain bad practices of homeopathy and not carefully analyzing what genuine, classical or orthodox Homeopathy teaches.

I think that a combination of these factors inspired, for example, the authors of the statement entitled “Homeopathic products and practices: Assessing the evidence and ensuring consistency in regulating medical claims in the EU” published by the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council, EASAC, in 2017, as we see through the bibliographic references they list, where none of Hahnemann’s works is mentioned.

They have not directly learned by studying (not superficially reading) the most important works on homeopathy.Opposers like these have existed since Hahnemann’s times. In those days, the German profession (guild) nominated Dr. Constantine Hering, who was recognized as an outstanding physician, to fight against homeopathy. In order to do it, he first carefully studied our master’s works.

Hering was amazed by Hahnemann’s advanced ideas, born through experimentation and observation, referring to health, disease, and cure and also on how to know the curative powers of medicines. He compared these new ideas to what he had learned in medical school, where knowledge was based on supposed theories about the causes of diseases and supposed knowledge on the effects of medicines. That is, the medical knowledge of his times was obtained a priori, only by letting their medical fantasies run free, by supposing, but not by basing their knowledge on careful observation and experimentation.

(An extensive explanation on how physicians used to “cure” in Hahnemann-Hering’s times is found in the long introduction which our master wrote to the Organon of the Healing Art.) Dr. Constantine Hering read in the Organon that our master taught that substances should be first proved or experimented with in healthy human beings in order to know their exact effects, before they could be used to try to cure, that is, by using a knowledge gotten a posteriori.

This difference between these two kinds of knowledge acquisition with respect to substances, in order to know their curative effects, notably impacted Dr. Hering’s mind.  He compared the idea of experimenting with substances with the instructions he had learned in the school of medicine on the use of emetics, cathartics, application of leeches (for hemorrhoids), astringents, setons, diaphoretics, diuretics, etc., to cure diseases, for which an imaginary material cause had been invented by guessing, and which pretended to eliminate this material cause.

Also, the concept of the law of similars, proposed by Hahnemann, (which says that “A weaker dynamic affection is permanently extinguished in the living organism by a stronger one, if the latter (whilst differing in kind) is very similar to the former in its manifestations”),

This tremendously impressed Dr. Hering, because just recently (1796) Dr. Jenner had discovered that the small-pox could be prevented by using matter from a lesion of a similar disease to the small-pox, the cow-pox.  Then after having carefully read Hahnemann’s works, Dr. Hering decided to put into practice what he now knew about homeopathy, so that he could give an unprejudiced opinion about it.

He became amazed by the outcomes arising from the application of homeopathic remedies for different diseases and decided to continue practicing this new curative method. He became such a brilliant homeopath that he left us a 10-volume encyclopedia, which contains thousands of symptoms cured with the aid of homeopathic remedies. People who wish to express their ideas about homeopathy, should first follow Hering’s steps (to study Hahnemann’s works and then, to put into practice what they have learned).

No person with an average intelligence and good ethical values, who is free from intellectual prejudices, can manifest a negative opinion about homeopathy if he/she has first carefully become thoroughly familiar with the homeopathic theory and practice.

It is academically absurd that some “scientists” express an opinion about a theme (homeopathy in this case) without having done a serious study of the subject. Most probably, critics of homeopathy think that Hahnemann’s writings being too old, they do not deserve being read, much less, studied; and although some of Hahnemann’s ideas are somehow obsolete, his essential concepts are not only presently valid, but very advanced for our times.

It is known that homeopathic medicines beyond the 12 C dilution or potency (which is a low potency) no longer contain any trace of the original substance used to prepare it; thus, critics of homeopathy say that, since there is no matter or substance in homeopathic medicines, especially in high potencies, then, homeopathy cures through placebos.

To people who think that homeopathy cures through a placebo effect, I ask: Is it possible to explain through a placebo effect the facts expressed in the following comments?

1.  Frequently, and especially in hypersensitive patients, when they take a well prescribed homeopathic remedy, they may experience a little aggravation of some of their symptoms, because of the capability of the remedy of causing symptoms that are similar to the ones that patients have (this is the way in which homeopathic remedies cure, that is, by producing symptoms similar to the ones that patients have); homeopaths call this exacerbation of the intensity of the symptoms: homeopathic aggravation.

Some patients acquainted with homeopathy know about this aggravation, but most patients know nothing about it. I ask people who say that homeopathy cures through a placebo effect, is it possible to bring on through a placebo effect an aggravation of the symptoms in a patient, when he/she does not know anything about it, and when he/she was expecting just the opposite of an aggravation, that is, an amelioration?

Especially since the patient believes the aggravation is due to a failing prescription on the part of the homeopath? A failing prescription which is not so, because after this kind of aggravation, an amelioration follows, when the case is a curable one.

Is it possible that a placebo can bring on an aggravation and then an amelioration of the symptoms? (This phenomenon is almost seen daily in the practice of homeopaths). Would other kinds of non-homeopathic physicians expect to hear so frequently from their patients this kind of comment on the aggravation followed by an amelioration if they, for any reason, had given a remedy, or even more, when they had, for any reason, given them a placebo?

2. Also, in hypersensitive patients, sometimes, besides the homeopathically aggravated symptoms mentioned above in item 1, there can appear some temporary new symptoms, which the homeopath recognizes as the kind of symptoms that the remedy which has been given to the patient can cause.

Could it be possible to ascribe these totally unexpected new symptoms to a placebo effect? Why are these new symptoms which patients feel, exactly similar to the ones that the remedy is capable of producing when given to healthy people (during experimentation), and about which the patient knows nothing and the homeopath knows much? Do these new symptoms become manifest due to a placebo effect?

3. When a homeopath gives, for example, a remedy in a 1 MC potency to a patient, and this potency works well, say, for one month, ameliorating or making the symptoms disappear during this time, after which the symptoms return, although with less intensity, the homeopath may think that a second dose of this same 1 MC potency is needed.

This second dose acts still better than the first one, promoting a longer amelioration. When the symptoms return again, for example, 2 months later, the homeopath gives the patient a third dose of the same 1 MC potency. It can also act well and still longer than the second dose but, let us suppose that after this third dose the patient reports that he has not felt any amelioration of symptoms.

The homeopath, then, chooses a higher potency, say a 10 MC and a most relevant and lasting amelioration is observed. Then the symptoms may again return after some months (although still more reduced in intensity) and a second dose of the 10 MC potency is needed.

Again, a longer amelioration is reached, after which, the symptoms may again return after several months, but always with less intensity, and then a third dose of the 10 MC is needed. This dose can work well, but, let us again suppose that it could not ameliorate the patient’s symptoms and the homeopath decides to raise the potency to 50 MC and a most complete and longer amelioration or definitive cure of the symptoms takes place. I again ask the opposers of homeopathy:

Is it possible for this clinical-posological phenomenon related to the change of potencies of a homeopathic remedy, to be caused by placebo effects, especially if what has been said in items 1 and 2 (referring to the homeopathic aggravation and the coming of new, temporary symptoms) can also be manifested during the use of any of the potencies which have been given to the patient in the case-example just mentioned, that is, 1MC, 10 MC, 50 MC?

4. Sometimes, for different reasons, the homeopath gives a patient a remedy that does not help him/her. I ask opposers of homeopathy again, why in this case a cure or an amelioration through a placebo effect is not seen as it supposedly should happen, from your point of view, that is, that homeopathy cures through a placebo effect? Homeopaths know that in cases like this, the cure was not reached because of different reasons:

    1. The correct remedy (the simillimum or at least, a similar) was not given to the sick person. The simillimum is the homeopathic medicine capable of producing the most similar symptoms to the ones a patient suffers, and so can cure them.
    2. The correct potency has not been selected.
    3. The patient first needs a nosode.
    4. The disease is incurable.
    5. The remedy was not correctly prepared or manufactured by the laboratory.
    6. It was impossible to get from the patient enough information about his/her state of health.
    7. The case was for the surgeon.
    8. For other reasons (dietetic, physical, environmental, climatological, etc.).

5. Sometimes after a second, third, fourth, etc. prescription of homeopathic remedies given to a sick person, he/she shows no improvement, in spite of the homeopath’s best efforts. What happens here? There have been several (or many) interviews between the homeopath and the patient, enough for a cure through a placebo effect to take place.

Here again the cure does not happen, as homeopathy does not cure through placebos. Not until the correct remedy (the simillimum) is given, may the patient begin to recover. I say, may begin to recover, because the cure is not always possible, as we have seen in point 4 (a,b,c,d,e,f).

6. Why do homeopaths only cure curable cases and not incurable ones, in spite of their best efforts to do so? Or in other words, why don’t they cure incurable cases with a placebo, as opposers to homeopathy would wish to expect from the action of the homeopathic remedy? Because not with the simillimum nor (much less) with a placebo, can incurable cases be cured.

7. Patients frequently suffer from several or many symptoms in different organs and systems of their bodies at the same time. Homeopaths understand that these symptoms are different manifestations of a one and only general disorder that permeates the whole organism. There are homeopathic remedies that can act on this general (multifacetic) disorder.

On prescribing a remedy for the totality of the symptoms of the sick person, the homeopath can, with only one dose of one remedy, ameliorate or cure several or many of these different symptoms. Now I ask: can it be possible to get this amelioration or cure of several or many symptoms (say, gastric, cutaneous, joint problems, genital, mental, respiratory, etc.), sometimes in a short time, through the use of a placebo and can it be done in an unprejudiced or unaware child or in a semi-conscious patient or in a sick animal?

Or can a placebo ameliorate or cure, not one, but several or many symptoms after the emergence of a non-lasting homeopathic aggravation of some of them or the appearance of short-term new symptoms, as I said before?

8. Homeopaths frequently hear from patients that an old symptom they used to have years before, appears now, after they took the homeopathic remedy. This reappearance of an old symptom after the homeopathic prescription, means, to the homeopath, that his/her prescription has been a good one.

9. This is so because the old symptom is also a part of the global pathological history of the patient and its reappearance means that the homeopathic remedy is acting globally upon the total state of health of the patient, causing, in this case, a homeopathic aggravation of that old, latent symptom; an aggravation that promptly will transform into an amelioration.

It is not difficult to think that the patient was not expecting the reappearance of this old symptom. As I said before, the returning of an old symptom is a frequent comment the homeopath hears from his/her patients. Can placebos often (almost systematically, as occurs with the use of homeopathic remedies) cause the return of old symptoms, followed by an important amelioration or eradication of these symptoms in patients?

Do those who are opposed to homeopathy have the right to state their opinions about it, if they are not acquainted with at least the few comments I have written in the present article, which certainly can be notably augmented and better explained by other colleagues, and which together are only a very small piece of the homeopathic knowledge that our master Hahnemann (in the Organon of the Healing Art) and other celebrated masters in homeopathy (in their respective works) left to the medical science and art?

Do these opposers have the right to state their opinions on Homeopathy if they have only superficially read some articles on this science, and if they have not carefully studied Hahnemann’s original works?

Please, now, let me briefly go into another of the comments that those who are opposed to homeopathy argue in order to negatively criticize it, when they analyze it from a materialistic point of view, and who wish that homeopathic remedies be analyzed under the same regulatory framework and requirements which are established by the scientific concepts of chemistry and physics for the analysis of non-homeopathic medicines.

To these materialistic medical or scientific minds it is indispensable (and I would agree with them if I were not a homeopath) to know the ingredients and their amounts in any medicine, homeopathic ones included. They claim that the label adhered to the bottles of homeopathic medicaments should say the quantity of the medicinal substance contained in the bottle, or, still better in each globule in particular.

They claim to know the ingredients and their amounts that, for example, each globule of the homeopathic remedy called Staphisagria, elevated to a 200 C potency, contains. Let us see, to raise Staphisagria to the 1 C potency, one drop of the juice of this plant is put in a glass-bottle containing 99 drops of pure ethylic alcohol and then the bottle is shaken (succussed) one hundred times.

To prepare the 2 C potency a drop of the 1 C potency is taken and put in another glass-bottle containing 99 drops of pure ethylic alcohol and again shaken 100 times. By repeating this process 198 more times, the 200 C potency of Staphisagria is obtained (this technique used to raise the potency of homeopathic medicines is called dynamization or potentiation).

What ingredients and in what amounts can be found in Staphisagria 200 C potency when science says that, mathematically (Avogadro’s number), matter cannot be found beyond the 12 C potency? Since matter does not exist in potencies over the 12 C, it is easy for opposers to homeopathy to think that, then, the cures using homeopathic remedies are produced by a placebo effect, not considering the possibility of action of homeopathic medicines at “non-material” levels, like the electromagnetic one.

Homeopaths will most probably be able to say what substances (if any) and their amounts (if some) are contained in each globule of Staphisagria 200 C (or any other homeopathic remedy elevated to a high potency), when science will also be able to determine the ingredients (if any) and the amounts (if some) of substances that are needed in the following phenomena:

  1. for a magnet to attract a piece of metal,
  2. for an acupuncturist to eliminate pain or anesthetize a part of a person’s body by introducing needles into the body,
  3. for a radiotherapist who applies radiation to a person’s body, in order to treat a cancerous lesion,
  4. for a change in weather to wet and cold to aggravate the pains of a person with a rheumatic disease, even some hours before the weather changes!,
  5. or for bad news to cause diarrhea in a person,
  6. or for an episode of anger to cause a headache or an abdominal colic,
  7. or for a psychologist, specialized in psychosomatic medicine, to provide psychotherapy to a patient in order to ameliorate or eliminate asthma, or gastric ulcer, etc.,
  8. or, I repeat, the ingredients (if any) and their amounts (if some) of the substance that a hypnotist uses to control the will and actions of a person,
  9. or the ingredients and amounts needed for a nightmare to alter the cardiac rhythm,
  10. or for the moon to cause the phenomenon of high tide,
  11. or for photosynthesis to exist,
  12. or for the rays of the sun to cause burns on the skin,
  13. or for many other natural phenomena to be manifested (such as Earth’s rotation and revolution).

That is, when science can say what substances (if any) and what amounts (if some) are needed to produce the aforementioned phenomena, then it will also be able to state the substances (if any) and their amounts (if some) contained in Staphisagria 200 C.

I suppose that it is clear that the phenomena previously enlisted are etiologically related to what science recognizes as energy (or most probably to something infinitely more intangible than energy) and that both, disease and its cure through homeopathic remedies, also belong to phenomena of the same kind.

Until now, science has been unable to explain how these phenomena are produced; humanity should wait long for a future explanation. The non-homeopathic medical science only (or mostly) recognizes tangible, material diseases (I say mostly because, although it is too materialistic, non-homeopathic medicine recognizes the electrical changes detected by an electroencephalogram and an electrocardiogram, which are evidence of dynamic/energetic changes). Homeopathy recognizes both, an initial dynamic unbalance of health and as the unbalanced state advances, also a mixed dynamic-material state of health.

To cure, homeopathy uses both, material remedies (tinctures, for example) and dynamic ones (potentized medicines, as, for example, 200 C, that is, 200 centesimal or 10M, that is, ten thousand centesimal, etc.)

With the tools that science presently has, there are people working to explain how homeopathic remedies act. The results, although interesting, have yet been insufficient. The most important and frequent evidence that shows the efficacy of homeopathic remedies is the enormous quantity of cured cases. There are associations of homeopaths trying to collect well documented solved cases. More publications referring to these cures are needed to support homeopathy.

Final note: If homeopaths cure through placebos, as those who are opposed to homeopathy say, why do many patients who have not found solution to their diseases through the methods used by non-homeopaths, come to the homeopath and find the solution to, for example, anxiety, depression, sterility of both men and women, migraine, acne and rosacea, menstrual disorders, different kinds of vertigo, renal calculi, etc., etc.?

And why don’t non-homeopaths use placebos to cure cases like these, which homeopaths cure by using their habitual medicines? And please, pay attention opposers, I said: to cure, not to control or palliate, because in some cases a total cure is obtained.

That is, the anxiety disappears after one or a few homeopathic prescriptions, so that, patients do not need to continue taking any kind of medicine (homeopathic ones included) to control the anxiety; a woman becomes pregnant, not just once, but  several times after being cured by one or a few homeopathic prescriptions, that is, she does not need to be again treated so that she can again become pregnant for a second or third time; the rosacea disappears (for many years) to such a degree that no one can suspect that once in his/her life such a patient could have had rosacea; or persons who used to pass 3 or 4 renal stones per year, for many years, cease to produce them. And so on in many other acute and chronic diseases as epilepsy, pneumonia, typhoid fever, etc. Obviously, it does not mean that homeopathy is a panacea.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Evelyn Aron for having revised the English version of the present article, to Mauricio Rivera for his assistance with computer skills and to Mario Rivera, Hom.M.D., for his suggestions.

Any comments on this work will be welcome at: s[email protected]

About the author

Arnoldo Rivera

Arnoldo Rivera

Dr. Arnoldo Rivera is a Mexican Homeopath who was born in Sabinas Hidalgo, N.L., México in 1949. He studied at Escuela Nacional de Medicina y Homeopatía, in México City and also at Homeopatía de México, A.C. (an association offering education in classical homeopathy). He graduated in 1975 and has practiced since then. He believes that students of Homeopathy should first carefully study and analyze Hahnemann's works before going on to other authors' writings, in order to build for themselves a firm basis if this science which will help them not stray from its core.

2 Comments

  • Your article explains so clearly the flaws in the placebo argument. There is so much propaganda against homeopathy and disinformation, that this kind of article is very much needed. Thank you Dr. Rivera.

  • Since conventional medical science itself claims there is such a thing as the “placebo” effect it claims that the mind controls matter and therefore contradicts its materialistic dogma itself. So why is it not researching the mechanisms by which the mind can control disease and the nature of this non-materialistic effect – the “placebo” effect itself therefore supports homoeopathy since they both function in a “non-material” way. Through the quantum field of course. The wave nature of “matter” since matter is an illusion.

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