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BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 19 August 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:518
  1. Douglas Carnall (dcarnall{at}
  1. BMJ

    This week the BMJ publishes evidence that, for allergic rhinitis at least, homoeopathy may offer some benefit over placebo. In this trial an objective measurement—nasal inspiratory peak flow—improved in the group treated with homoeopathic tablets compared with the patients who received only dummy tablets. Such results are important because the essence of an effective placebo is that both doctor and patient believe in it. And if we step back from our nihilistic desire that every advance in medicine should have entertained a null hypothesis at some point, even a “mere placebo” effect is well worth having (

    The results are a boost for the esteem of the homoeopaths, always a rather superior branch of the complementary therapies, with their royal patronage (, established hospitals, and many doctors trained in its techniques (

    Homoeopathy's lineage dates back two centuries, when its founder, the German physician Samuel Hahnemann, had the temerity to suggest that treatment based on the “law of similars” might be preferable to bloodletting, purging, and violent enemas ( Naturally, he was driven out of town a couple of times: the lancet owners (whose equipment is now on display in the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, said he was bad for business, though killing off your most eminent patients can't have been too good for business either. George Washington, for example, died shortly after being relieved of nine pints of blood in 24 hours—for a sore throat. With competition like that, you don't even need very good placebos to get ahead of the game.

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