The Largest Mass Overdose In History Harmed No One

“I find the medicine worse than the malady.” —Beaumont and Fletcher, Love’s Cure

In A Nutshell

In early February 2011, over 1,500 people from around the globe took part in an organized overdose of homeopathic belladona. Homeopaths recommend belladonna for symptoms ranging from delirium and restless sleep to scarlet fever and epileptic spasms. The overdose campaign was organized by a skeptics’ society from the UK to demonstrate that homeopathy is ineffective and nonsensical. Homeopathic remedies are actually diluted to the point where no active ingredients remain—they are simply sugar pills or plain water—so they cannot have any biological effect. This dramatic demonstration included participants on every continent, including Antarctica.

The Whole Bushel

To understand the bizarre medical practice that is homeopathy, we need to go all the way back to 1796. At that time, medicine was still mostly based on the theory of the four humors, and treatment involved bloodletting and purging. Emptying your bodily fluids everywhere is not a good way to treat an illness—you’d be better off doing nothing. Enter German physician Samuel Hahnemann, who unwittingly concocted a way to do exactly that.

Hahnemann created (yes, as in “made up completely”) two laws. One said that a small amount of a substance can treat symptoms it would normally cause: Like cures like. The other law said the less of the substance you give to someone, the more effect it will have. So if you’re having trouble sleeping then you should take coffee, a substance that would normally wake you up, and dilute it and dilute it and dilute it some more, then repeat that dilution another half-dozen times. If you then drink the water you’ve just diluted all the coffee out of, it’ll make you fall asleep. It’s as ludicrous as it sounds—homeopaths dilute their remedies to the point that literally no single atom of the original ingredient remains.

Since mainstream doctors at the time were all busy sticking sharp objects into their patients, it allowed homeopathy, which involves drinking a bit of water (pretty attractive compared to the competition), to gain a foothold in Europe. By the time things like germ theory turned up, homeopathy was firmly entrenched. Now, centuries later, studies have shown over and over again that homeopathy simply does not work. Yet it has not gone away.

This takes us to the UK in January 2010. The National Health Service was spending millions of taxpayer pounds on homeopathy. Homeopathic remedies were being sold by the country’s largest pharmacy, Boots. And the Merseyside Skeptics Society from the northwest of England decided they wanted to make a dramatic point. They arranged for hundreds of people to gather together to swallow a full bottle each of homeopathic sleeping pills on January 30 of that year. You can see a video of one gathering here. Spoiler: No one fell asleep. If you’re curious, homeopathic pills are created by taking the water with nothing in it, splashing it on some plain sugar pills and . . . well, that’s it.

That event was a success. Later in the year, homeopathy was publicly blasted by a committee of MPs and described as “witchcraft” by the British Medical Association. The skeptics, on a roll, decided to follow up their 2010 overdose with an even bigger event. Over the course of the weekend of February 5–6, anti-homeopathy campaigners around the world gathered in over 70 cities to take a full bottle each of homeopathic pills. Spoiler again: Nothing happened to anyone.

You may think it’s a lot of wasted effort for something that does nothing at all. What’s the harm? Aside from the wasted resources, homeopaths are keen to offer their magical potions in place of genuine medicine or even vaccinations. Homeopathy is what it was when it was invented: a safe way of avoiding medical treatment. Of course, this has gone from being a good idea in the 18th century to a very, very bad one in the 21st.

Show Me The Proof

Homeopathy and Evidence-Based Medicine
The 10:23 Challenge 2011
Boots hit by mass homeopathy ‘overdose’

  • Phil_42

    Homeopathy is a joke. Whenever famous sceptic Randy James talks about this subject he often begins by taking a whole bottle of ‘so called’ sleeping pills and then continues to lecture on the subject while ‘surprisingly’ not looking the least bit sleepy or drained. Believers and proscriber’s of this nonsense should have a good hard look at themselves.

    • James Randi.
      But your point is valid, homeopathy is a very dangerous joke.

      • Phil_42

        Oops, yeah sorry lol

  • Steve W

    Survival of the fittest. I say let the dumbasses take them.

  • Chester

    And yet the city of Vancouver allows them to prescribe medications such ass Oxycontin and other powerful painkillers.

  • SuperWeapons

    This is one of the best written articles i have seen on this site so far.

  • starshine

    As usual, the sceptics fail to “get it”, thinking in the only way they know how – i.e. in terms of allopathic medicine where more taken means more effect. A few points about homoeopathy:
    1: Remedies are prescribed for the person, so 2 people with similar symptoms may need 2 different remedies; equally, 2 people with differing symptoms could be given the same remedy.
    2: If you don’t need the remedy, it won’t do anything – it’s safe, unlike certain allopathic drugs. If you do need it you only need to take one or two pills at a time. Taking a whole bottle is ludicrous & shows up the sceptics as being rather silly.
    3: If homoeopathy didn’t work, it would have died out ages ago – people don’t waste time & money on stuff that isn’t any good.

    • N Rey

      Ok, so I typically avoid commenting. Honestly, I find the conversations amusing. But your claim/s lack the routine humor of, let’s say a ji99a troll comment or a Morris M. bash rant. What you claim is just damaging. To support exploiting ill people with sugar pills…. Just wow.

      Oh and people don’t spend money on stupid things? Umm yes they do, that’s why we can constantly find examples of people getting scammed. Magnetic bracelets that cure all, Nigerian princes come to mind right off the bat as examples of things people still fall for. Just to make it a healthy three, I can point to you and your supposed knowledge of the scam you are supporting. I’m assuming that you have spent your hard earned money on this crap and are either too proud to admit that you were scammed or are one of the folks doing the scamming. In regard to the former, don’t sweat it, we all make mistakes and once you admit it, the quicker you can laugh about it. For the latter, please… Just stop. See, that’s good advice. It didn’t cost a thing. Nor did it taste like wheat grass and sugar.

    • Chris

      By your theory in point number 1;
      If you took sugar in your coffee, and some dude in a hemp cloak came over to you and said;
      “i see you have a spoonful of sugar in your coffee, you know what would make it sweeter than a whole spponful of sugar? Take that spoonful of sugar, throw it in the ocean, take a droplet of ocean water, and pop that in your coffee, and job done. Sweetest coffee ever! You’re welcome.”
      I take it you’d lap that up and buy all his bottles on ‘Sweet Like Ocean’ sugar substitute he’s selling for £90 a bottle?
      We all have the right to waste our “hard earned money” on stupid things eh? At least you’re making some guy with a cupboard full of asprin, and a factory full of sugar pills very rich!

  • surfenstein

    No weed was

  • Errkism

    Interesting, more dumb people to laugh at too. The dumb ones being the people who believe homeopathy works.