Homeopathy dates back to the late-eighteenth century and is based on the view that disease symptoms can be treated by minute doses of substances that produce similar symptoms when provided in larger doses to healthy people. Many homeopathic products are diluted to such an extent that they no longer contain detectable levels of the initial substance. In general, homeopathic product claims are not based on modern scientific methods and are not accepted by modern medical experts, but homeopathy nevertheless has many adherents.
There is near-unanimous scientific consensus that homeopathy’s purported mechanism of action - using ultra-highly diluted substances to allow “like to cure like” - runs counter to basic principles of chemistry, biology, and physics. Health policy expert Timothy Caulfield recently said: “To believe homeopathy works … is to believe in magic.”
There is a huge market in the US for homeopathic remedies. In 2007 alone, it was estimated Americans spent more than $3bn on a controversial system of alternative medicine created in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann, and which has long been dismissed by mainstream science.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) does not exempt homeopathic products from the general requirement that objective product claims be truthful and substantiated. Nevertheless, in the decades since the Commission announced in 1972 that objective product claims must be substantiated, the FTC has rarely challenged misleading claims for products that were homeopathic or purportedly homeopathic. Now, the US government is requiring that producers of such items ensure that if they want to claim they are effective treatments, then they need to make available the proof. Otherwise, they will need to point out that there is “no scientific evidence that the product works”. To be non-deceptive labelling and promotion should effectively communicate to consumers that: (1) there is no scientific evidence that the product works and (2) the product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.