02 December 2013

Nux vomica

My wife spotted this in a store and recognized the name for its association with strychnine.
The strychnine tree (Strychnos nux-vomica L.) also known as nux vomica, poison nut, semen strychnos and quaker buttons, is a deciduous tree native to India, southeast Asia...  It is a major source of the highly poisonous intensely bitter alkaloids strychnine and brucine, derived from the seeds inside the tree's round, green to orange fruit...  The most direct symptom caused by strychnine is violent convulsions due to a simultaneous stimulation of the motor or sensory ganglia of the spinal cord. 
This preparation is marketed "for the temporary relief of acid indigestion, gas or sour stomach.  I notice that the label doesn't indicate the presence of strychnine (or any other active ingredient) -

- presumably because it's only a homeopathic "medicine."


  1. The 30C means that it has been diluted 30 times, with each dilution being 1/100th of the original.

    Or, specifically:

    - Take 1 part strychnine, 99 parts distilled water. Mix. Shake the heck out of it (this causes the water molecules to "memorize" the nasty patterns of the strychnine).
    - (1) take 1 part of the resulting mixture, mix with 99 parts distilled water. Shake.
    - Repeat (1) 38 more times.

    End result? A 30C dilution. Mathematically, a reduction in concentration of 10^60th.

    Same thing is done for solids, etc... same dilution ratios apply.

    I.e. that is a really expensive tube of, most likely, sugar pills.

    It is exceedingly unlikely -- significantly less likely than winning the lottery multiple times in a row -- that there is a single molecule of strychnine in that tube.

  2. C30 signifies the homeopathic "potency" - made by diluting a given substance in a prescribed manner.

    C is a 1:100 dilution, C2 is another dilution by the factor 100.
    C30 is a dilution by the factor 10^60 or
    Just wikipedia'ed this for accuracy, they have an example for C30 - 1 ml of the original substance would be contained in 1,191,016 cubic light years
    - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeopathic_dilutions#30C:_1_ml_in_1.2C191.2C016_cubic_light_years

    Now, multiply this speck of dust again by 22 (-88), and you will arrive at a lethal dose of 30-120 mg of Strychnine (which has a density of 1.36).

  3. 28, not 38 more times. Oops. Still, 10^60th dilution.

    Translation: Homeopathy is complete and total bunk. It is snake oil. Well, worse, because at least snake oil typically had alcohol and/or other get-you-highs.

  4. "Strychnine", by The Sonics, about 1965:


  5. How'd they determine a daily dose limit given that there's no active ingredient???

  6. A friend who works for a plastic surgeon says he recommends that his patients take 5 Arnica tablets (homeopathic) every day for 5 days before surgery to promote healing.

  7. Everyone else has done an excellent job of describing why homeopathy's dilutions result in none of the "active ingredient" being in the final solution. In fact the greatest dilution that is reasonably likely to contain one molecule of the original substance is 12C, if starting from 1 mole of original substance.

    To answer the implied question of why the hell strychnine would be used you must be familiar with homeopathy's "law" of similars. This scientifically dubious "law" was devised by Dr. Hahnemann who claims he became sick with malaria like symptoms after consuming a small amount of cinchona bark (the source of quinine). From this he took a giant dubious leap of logic and concluded that all things that cause symptoms similar to the illness in question must then treat that illness when delivered in very tiny doses.

    As a result some homeopath must have deduced from the tree's name that it causes your stomach to hurt. Therefore a dilution of it so tiny that none is actually present must cure stomach ailments.

    You can find lists of the substances used by homeopaths online where you will learn such dubious facts as:
    Allium cepa (Onion) treats Itching eyes
    Atropa belladonna (Deadly nightshade) treats headache
    Urtica urens (Stinging Nettle) treats Bites and stings
    Caffeine treats insomnia

  8. Skeptics also periodically try to raise awareness of these useless products by staging mass homeopathic suicides. Not surprisingly no one falls asleep, let alone dies, after consuming a bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills.

    1. Interesting and entertaining. But the problem is that people with delusional syndromes cannot be convinced by logical arguments or empirical evidence - see (or preferably hear) the discussion at the end of Act One of this This American Life podcast:


    2. I enjoyed that story very much.

      I hope that most of the users of homeopathic products do not have clinical delusional syndromes. But you are correct that the general maxim "You cannot reason a man out of a position he didn't reason himself into in the first place."

      Or as Mr J. Swift put it :
      "Reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired..."

  9. I used to take this for stomach upset when I was a teen-ager and it seemed to work. I'm guessing it was the chalky substance and not the supposed contents that calmed my indigestion.

    That, or the placebo effect.

  10. Homeopathy has been around for a long time. I've always found it to be effective but admittedly don't use it a lot - used to more when my kids were little. I've taken nux vomica for upset stomach with good results but it's the arnica that I still keep in the cupboard.

    1. Being around a long time isn't a good rationale for use or an argument for efficacy, much as it is used as such by proponents of TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). Homeopathy's purported mechanisms of action run counter to the laws of physics, and, frankly, common sense.

      There's nothing to say so-called "traditional" medicines, or so-called "natural" medicines (another discussion entirely), cannot be effective, but they need to pass the same rigorous standards we apply to any other medicine. Test them thoroughly in well-designed and carefully managed studies for safety and efficacy. If they prove out, manufacture them under regulated and audited conditions and make them available.

  11. It is my understanding that the placebo effect works even when the patient knows s/he is taking a placebo. The mind is a mysterious thing.

    1. The mind is indeed a mysterious thing and getting less mysterious every day. The placebo effect is an interesting mixture of psychology, stress response, and the natural tendency of our bodies to get better on their own even if no treatment is administered.

      "For studies with a binary outcome (improved versus not improved) there was no significant difference between the placebo and no treatment groups. For studies with continuous outcomes, there was some apparent effect of placebo; but not so for objective outcomes that could be measured by someone else, such as blood pressure, but only for subjective outcomes that depended on self-reports, such as pain."
      "The placebo effect is mainly subjective. Placebos don’t work on patients who are asleep or unconscious. You have to know you’re being treated. Placebos don’t keep women from getting pregnant. They don’t cure cancer, heal broken bones, or do anything you can measure objectively. They work for more elusive complaints like headache, depression, itching, shortness of breath, tension, indigestion, and other symptoms that require us to accept the patient’s self-report of what he is experiencing."
      "That doesn’t imply that those symptoms are not real. Some misguided doctors have tried to use placebo response as a test to diagnose whether a patient is really sick or not. That test doesn’t work, and even if it did it would be unethical."
      - eSkeptic May 20th, 2009


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