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I work at Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital. I’m a medical doctor, used to be a GP (Family Physician), but I became gradually disenchanted with prescribing only antis (anti-biotics, anti-depressants, anti-inflammatories, anti-histamines, anti-hypertensives……..you get the picture) and only having the time to focus on little bits of people instead of the people themselves (we call those little bits diseases by the way). I had perhaps strangely had a notion that being a doctor would be about being involved in healing (ever tried looking up “health” or “healing” in a medical textbook? Don’t bother. No such index items!) so just suppressing bits of people didn’t feel like what a proper doctor should be doing. On top of that there were situations every day where I just didn’t have anything good to offer (everything from infant colic, to night cramps, restless legs, sports injuries, PMT…….blah, blah, blah – believe me, there are LOTS of problems your doctor doesn’t have answers for!)

I happened upon a course in “Homeopathy” at Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital back in 1983 – didn’t know there was such a hospital and had no idea what “homeopathy” was anyway, but something about the ad caught my attention – wish I could remember what it was! – I think it was something that mentioned “healing”! Well, I signed up. I learned there about homeopathic medicines, how safe they were, and what their indications were and they gave us a wee box of 10 remedies to go and try out in our practices. Well, from the first try I was amazed at how good these treatments were. They could deliver improvements in conditions I hadn’t other answers for and that was VERY useful. Patients would stop me in the street and thank me for the prescription because it had helped so much – that NEVER happened when I prescribed an anti-something!

To cut a long story short, the patient demand for homeopathic treatment drove my learning and after I passed the Membership exam of the Faculty of Homeopathy I started working at the Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital in the Outpatient Dept every wednesday. Well, my wednesdays soon got an awful lot more satisfying than the mondays, tuesdays, thursdays and fridays, so I had a crisis. All my life I’d wanted to be a doctor, no, not just a doctor, but a GP, and here I was thinking I don’t want to be a GP anymore. So I stopped being a GP and for a few months did a weekly radio show on ScotFM, wrote a textbook of homeopathy for GPs, and did my wednesday clinics. After a few months my friend and colleague, David Reilly at the Homeopathic Hospital suggested we make a bid for the creation of full-time position for me at the hospital. I started there full-time in 1995 and I’m still there. I love it! Every single day, every single clinic, every single patient. I look forward to every day of work. How many people can say that?

So what do I do there? What’s this homeopathy?

Everyone I see there has been referred by another doctor or nurse. Everyone I see has a chronic problem – everything from chronic pain, to allergies, skin problems, cancer, multiple sclerosis, psychiatric problems like depression, bipolar disorders, you name it. I see a lot of kids. Almost half my practice is treating children. The thing most of these people have in common is that they’ve already tried the drugs, surgery and so on recommended by other doctors but they’re still not well, still suffering. Amazingly, our in-house audits consistently show that across the board, after receiving homeopathic treatment, around two-thirds of these patients claim a benefit which makes a difference to their daily lives.

So, no wonder it’s such a treat to work there. Most of the patients get benefits from the treatments which they didn’t find elsewhere. That’s hugely satisfying if your goal in life as a doctor is to try and relieve suffering.

Ok, enough, you’re probably thinking, what on earth is this homeopathy thing anyway?

Dr Samuel Hanhemann, was a German doctor who lived from 1755 – 1843 As a young doctor he soon grew disenchanted with the practice of medicine of his day – he thought that blood-letting, cupping, leeching, purging and poisoning patients was pretty brutal and didn’t seem to actually heal anyone. So he stopped being a doctor and to earn some money he translated textbooks into German. One day he was translating Cullen’s Pharmacopoeia from English into German and he read about the treatment of swamp fever with Peruvian Tree Bark. Cullen said this drug worked by being an “astringent” ie it dried the body up. Hahnemann, wondered if that was right, so to test it out, he took some. Much to his surprise, he found that he got all the symptoms of swamp fever. How interesting! The drug which can cure the disease can produce the same disease when given to a healthy patient (that’s not exactly true but it’s how he saw it). He then tested a bunch of other common drugs of the time and found the same phenomenon. He called this “the treatment of like cures like” – “homeopathy”.

Does this make sense? Well, yes it does. There’s a phenomenon we know called “hormesis” – where a drug which has one effect at a high dose, has an opposite effect at a low dose. Think of aspirin. In high doses it makes the body temperature rise, yet in low doses it can lower a fever. Professor Bond, pharmacologist in Houston coined the term “paradoxical pharmacology” to describe this phenomenon and even created a receptor theory model to explain it. Nothing really controversial here. Let’s move on.

Hahnemann thought that doctors shouldn’t be poisoning their patients so he decided to find out what was the smallest possible dose of a medicine which would bring about a healing effect (when prescribed on the basis of this like treats like idea). There weren’t any drug companies in those days so doctors had to prepare their own medicines. Hahnemann used a method of serial dilutions and succussions to make his medicines (that’s a stepwise series of dilution of the original substance with vigorous shaking of the test tube between each dilution). He got another surprise. Not only did the smaller doses cause less harm, they actually seemed to cure quicker! The more dilute preparations had a more powerful effect! OK, I hear you say, enough’s enough. This is crazy thinking! Well, it gets worse. Cos he pushed this dilution theory way up to 1 in 10 to the power 30 and beyond – trust me, I’m a doctor – that means there are NONE of the original molecules left! Now THAT is controversial! In fact, its at this point where some people start to say homeopathy is sheer nonsense and can’t possibly work!

Would it surprise you to know I disagree with that view?

You might want to go check out the scientific research in homeopathy. I recommend you start here. In short, there are many clinical trials of homeopathy and many have shown effects of homeopathic treatments that cannot be dismissed as placebo. Something seems to be happening and its probably not placebo. In fact the clinical trial evidence in homeopathy is not very strong and doesn’t really answer any of the questions about this treatment so we need to look elsewhere. Elsewhere includes what are known as outcome studies. These are studies of what actually happens to patients who have homeopathic treatment (not comparing this to placebo medicines). Consistently such studies show around two out of every three patients get benefits from homeopathic treatments. So, however you explain it, for most people it does exactly what it says on the tin – it helps. What about the idea that such ultra-high dilutions can have a consistent biological effect? Is that nonsense? Well, interestingly, there have been a number of laboratory studies in recent years which show that water does indeed have the capacity to communicate specific effects of substances which have been diluted in it many times. This is early work but it shouldn’t be dismissed.

But what IS homeopathy?

Homeopathic medicines are prepared from natural substances – plants, minerals, substances of animal origin – all of which are serially diluted and succussed many, many times to prepare the actual medicines. Every single medicine has its own unique picture of symptoms as described in homeopathic materia medicae – these are reference books based on clinical trials (called “provings”), clinical experience and toxicological information about the substances. The idea is that the picture of the remedy should match, as closely as possible, the picture of the patient’s illness (actually I prefer the concept of the “narrative” as opposed to the “picture”).

The narrative of the patient’s illness reveals their unique experience (no two people with the same diagnosis have the same narrative) and it reveals their patterns of coping (and failing to cope) – this is what we are looking for in selecting a specific homeopathic medicine – the narrative of the experience and the patterns of coping. When the patient takes the homeopathic medicine the intention is to stimulate their processes of self-repair, self-recovery and self-healing. The intention is NOT to suppress but to heal. The medicines themselves are non-toxic – they have no significant side-effects, a record over 200 years of absolutely NO fatalities, and can be safely taken in conjunction with other prescribed medication.

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