Homeopathy is no better than a sugar pill...so why are people so hooked on this daft trend?
Not only is this practice implausible, it might even be a danger for those who have serious symptoms, says Fionola Meredith
Got a touch of tonsillitis? Why not pay a therapeutic visit to a witch? Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog - into the cauldron they all go, plus a bit of "double, double, toil and trouble", and there you are, a potent hell-broth that'll soothe your sore throat in no time.
To be honest, you may as well consult a witch about whatever ails you, rather than visit a homeopath. Why? Because, despite the popularity of homeopathy treatments, they simply don't work.
They're woo-woo stuff, a pseudo-scientific carry-over from another, less-enlightened era and they don't have the active power to make you better. It's hardly surprising, really - homeopathic remedies are diluted so much that not a single molecule of the original substance remains in this so-called medicine.
You're just dosing yourself with hocus-pocus. Any positive effects are all in the mind. And more fool you if you fall for such muddle-headed magic.
The inefficacy of homeopathic treatments has been demonstrated time and time again. According to a 2010 report by the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons, homeopathic remedies are "scientifically implausible" and work no better than placebos on patients. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) does not recommend that homeopathy should be used in the treatment of any health condition. As far as the British Medical Association is concerned, homeopathy is "witchcraft", while Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, thinks it is "rubbish" and shouldn't be available on the NHS.
The NHS itself has acknowledged for years that "there is no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition". Yet still homeopathy - perhaps because of support from one of its most famous adherents, Prince Charles - has managed to flourish. It's a multi-million pound industry in the UK, which says a lot about rampant stupidity in some sections of the population.
Now at last the NHS has decided to stop funding the practice, only to be hit with a legal challenge by the British Homeopathic Association (BHA).
Quite how the BHA plans to make its case, justifying why taxpayers should pay for patients to be treated with silly pills, will be interesting to see.
Fortunately for us the NHS does not fund homeopathy in Northern Ireland. But there are plenty of private practitioners who will listen to your health concerns, take your money and provide you with a treatment that has been conclusively debunked.
You can also walk into Boots or many other chemists and buy homeopathic remedies off the shelf. A Boots representative actually admitted to the Commons' Science and Technology Committee that the company sells homeopathic remedies because they are popular, not because they are efficacious.
There are really serious ethical issues going on here. While the doses themselves are technically harmless, given that there quite literally is nothing to them, the danger is that people end up treating serious symptoms with these remedies rather than going to their doctor for proper medical advice.
And the fact that homeopathy treatments are on sale in pharmacies confers a quasi-scientific status on them. Because they share shelf space with clinically and scientifically proven drugs, sheer proximity gives them a credibility they simply don't deserve. Why are chemists selling them at all?
One man who has done a great deal to expose the myth of homeopathy, subjecting the dubious practice to rigorous scientific analysis, is Edzard Ernst. The renowned German-born professor of complementary medicine describes homeopathic treatments as "immoral".
Speaking ahead of the publication of his new book, More Harm Than Good?, he said that "there is a whole shelf of rubbish being sold and that is simply unethical".
Professor Ernst has previously described Prince Charles, who famously used homeopathy to treat his cattle at Highgrove, as "a snake-oil salesman", and he still thinks that royal backing for the practice is very worrying.
"You can't have alternative medicine just because Prince Charles likes it," because that is not in the best interest of the patients," says Ernst.
There's the odd hopeful sign that people are beginning to wake up to the reality of homeopathy - and not just the human variety. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons recently stated that vets should only offer treatments that are "underpinned by a recognised evidence base or sound scientific principles". So that rules homeopathy out, which is fair enough, since it works on neither man nor beast.
Edzard Ernst has suggested the homeopathic remedies belong not in the pharmacy section but in the confectionary aisle. It makes sense, because they're effectively nothing more than sugar pills.