When I have conversations about homeopathy outside my office, people often tell me that they find homeopathy to be confusing. But I think the things people find confusing about homeopathy are actually the things that are peripheral to what homeopathy is.
Homeopathy, itself … homeopathy with a capital “H,” is incredibly simple to understand, easy to apply and universal in its principals.
In Homeopathy, we give a substance that would cause a disease similar to the disease we’re trying to remove. That’s Homeopathy, right there. “Homeopathy” means “the therapy of similars.”
So, if someone has a stomach bug with horrible nausea, lightheadedness, a feeling of being overheated, clammy perspiration …, if, furthermore, the nausea feels better when the person pulls their shirt up to expose their belly to the cool air … anyone ever had those symptoms?
Anyone ever accidentally swallowed chewing tobacco? Yep, that’s the feeling. I remember it vividly from boy scout camp when I was twelve.
And if someone gets a stomach bug that makes them feel exactly that way, a homeopathic preparation of tobacco will make them feel better, pronto.
Oh, yeah. And when you give a dose of something that is homeopathic to the disease, be sure not to give such a large dose that you make the person feel worse. Common sense, right?
All very simple. Now, you understand homeopathy.
If you want to speak of classical homeopathy, which is what I practice, all you need to add are two rules given us by the founder of homeopathy: test all remedial substances before using them on a sick person (duh, right?). And only give one remedial substance at a time. Don’t confuse things by giving more than one thing at a time.
All the confusing stuff, like dosing and case management — which are confusing in any medical discipline — are peripheral to the basic understanding that, as Dr. Samuel Hahnemann said 200 years ago, “like cures like.”
Of course, if I’m being honest, there’s another kinda confusing thing: Why, exactly, does like cure like? How on earth can tobacco make someone with a stomach bug feel better?
( This is the million-dollar question in homeopathy, and it’s the question that Samuel Hahnemann said, “I’m not positive, but here’s what I think is going on:” )
First of all, the homeopathic tobacco does not MAKE the person feel better. The dose is too small for a homeopathic remedy to force the body in a different direction. That is what conventional medicine tries to do — storm the castle, conquer the inhabitants, install new government and enforce the new rules!
But in Homeopathy, it’s the person that makes the person feel better. Because all the person really needs is a little help on its way.
In a nutshell, the body reacts to the tobacco by opposing the symptoms it would cause. It fights back against the dose of tobacco, thereby fighting back against the symptoms of the stomach bug. Because the dose of tobacco was only large enough to elicit a response from the body and not large enough to make the person sicker, this upside-down version of the “rebound effect” helps to guide the body away from the disease and toward health.
At least, this is how the founder of homeopathy envisioned it happening, and we now have some good basic science to back up that theory.
So, in homeopathy, we give a dose that the body recognizes but is not poisoned by. When the body reacts to that dose, it fights back against the symptoms it already has.
I like to think of it as giving the body a little hint. When these hints are effective, the body can resolve all sorts of disease using its own reactive power.
Because the body makes this change on its own, and because these changes take the body in the direction of greater stability, the organism is then able to sustain that change for longer than if we forced it to do the same thing by overwhelming it with chemicals.
This might make the point clearer: Think about painkillers, which work by overwhelming the body’s pain pathways with chemicals. But when those chemicals wear off, the pain often comes back, right? If you’re using particularly strong painkillers, the pain often comes back stronger.
This is the well-known “rebound effect” you get from a large dose of something. The body fights that dose until it clears it out, and then it tends to overshoot in the other direction and make the symptoms worse until it can find its equilibrium again … or until it gets another dose of painkillers.
So, you have to keep taking painkillers, and over time, you have to take larger and larger doses to get the same effect, because the body makes long-term changes to adapt to this chemical it keeps encountering.
Homeopathy uses this same tendency to adapt but in the opposite way. We give a substance that would *cause* pain. However, we give it in such a tiny dose that any extra pain is unnoticeable …, but the body still rebounds *away* from that tiny dose … away from pain.
With regular dosing, the body adapts by moving away from pain and establishes both what we might call a less-pain equilibrium and a more stable, less suffering, state of health.
There are actually a fair number of conventional drugs that act on the same principle …, like the use of digitalis in congestive heart failure …, AZT in AIDS … and Ambien in persistent vegetative states.
We all know what Ambien does, right? It makes you fall asleep …, so hard that you can’t wake up. Like a coma. Well, doctors are finding that Ambien can wake *some* patients in persistent vegetative states.
This means that, for those patients, Ambien is *homeopathic* to their persistent vegetative state. There are other substances homeopathic to coma, as well, and these other substances might work better for those coma patients who don’t respond to Ambien applied homeopathically.
Pretty neat, huh?
Tobacco plant in flower. Photo credit: William Rafti of the William Rafti Institute.