I ate my wafer...


Pet Peeve #2: A lower burden of proof for Herbal or Natural products compared to pharmaceutical products.

A. I have nothing specifically against herbal stuff in and of itself, it is merely another way to get chemicals into the body. It also is another way to induce a beneficial placebo effect. Somewhat unfortunately, the actually therapeutic chemical(s) in herbal products are often part of a chemical sea of other agents. This is not in and of itself always good or bad, I'm comfortable taking the risk of eating all sorts of food items that contain dangerous chemicals.

B. The problem, which unfortunately is intertwined with placebo effect, is the blind and irrational faith that many otherwise bright people put in herbal/natural/organic/whatever products. Setting the bar lower for herbals makes the placebo effect work better, I suspect.

  1. Practical example: if a friend had hay fever...and I offered them the same random appearing pill as:

  2. 1. Oh, its an experimental allergy drug “X-679” from britsol-myers-squibb, it's been doing great for people, there are all sorts of good reports about it on the internet! They really have out best interest in mind even though they don't have any double-blind tests done yet, or a well researched side effect list! Better living through chemistry! I've been taking it for months and it makes me feel great! So has my family!

  1. This is the Pos weed caplets I was telling you about! Just look on the internet! The Native-Americans and pioneers used Pos weed for generations to treat this problem! It is completely natural, had nothing whatsoever artificial in it, no dies, etc, etc. Of course it doesn't have side effects, ITS NATURAL! Double blind testing is just a way for pharmaceutical companies to keep cheap and effect natural ethanobotanicals from competing in the marketplace, and the FDA is of the devil for putting a cautionary label on Pos weed!

I'd lay pretty heavy odds on more people taking the pill with scenario #2, than #1. I could have fleshed out that hypothetical with making the active ingredient the same, or that the random other alkaloids in Pos Weed are many, many times more likely to be dangerous than the binders and dyes in 679, etc, etc. If I had to pick a real world equivalent off the top of my head I'd use Khat v. Pseudoephdrine. Anyway, I can always do that in the comments if anyone cares.

E. The sociological issues here are fascinating: typically if I comment to friend that an antibiotic they're taking won't help their viral infection or similar, they are much more receptive than, oh, if I were questioing the effectiveness of Echinacea taken as an general immune system booster.

Often when talking about this issue, I use the “better living through chemistry” phrase, which I should change to “better living through balancing risks with hard data”. Personally, it never fails to amuse me the social and psychological stuff that's tied to herbals, so I should quit whining and just watch in bemusement.


  • You know I'm with you Bob. Yes, I use "natural remidies." I drink green tea mixed with Catnip when I can't sleep ... if I am a little stressed I take St. John's Wart. Allergies? A little Whiskey will help that runny nose and sore throat.
    BUT that does NOT mean I skip the "evil man made chemicals" in favor of home remidies. To some degree or another EVERYONE uses such remidies ... can't sleep? a little warm milk will fix you right up. Burn yourself making that warm milk? Rub some Aloe on that burn. There is also a danger in using only the man made chemicals for such problems ... people can ignore the more "natural" reasons for physical problems ... don't take pain meds for those muscle cramps ... until you try eating a banana. I am blathering. Enough.

    By Blogger TheAmber, at 1:10 PM  

  • You know, Bob, it's just interesting in general to see what counts for knowledge - what "everyone knows" within any given society. For instance, there seems to be something in our society that is skeptical of overly processed things, making them "not as good" or "real" or whatever. At least, we are in some respects, or people tend to think they are, when the reverse may be true. But question that basis, and you'll get an odd look. Why? We're simply not in the position to be able to exercise the power to state what counts as knowledge and what doesn't.

    By Blogger August., at 8:56 PM  

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