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| Against allopathy
“”A small crack appears
In my diplomacy-dike.
|—Tim Minchin, Storm|
Alternative medicine is any medical treatment that is not part of Western Medicine, such as one would learn in "medical school", "nursing school" or even paramedic training. Much, if not most of the "alternative medicine" world lacks any scientific proof of its effectiveness, and that which does have real effectiveness, tends to be palliative not curative. Alternative medicine includes "traditional medicines" (i.e. "medical" systems developed prior to or outside of Western Medicine, such as traditional Native American remedies, or Traditional Chinese medicine), , "folk remedies" (i.e., herbalism, tinctures, and rubs that were common place "treatments" often passed around via urban legend), and an ever growing class of "religious" or "spiritual" treatments that have their sources in Eastern Religions, but are filtered through a pay-as-you-go, for-profit (see "New Age" mindset. The term "alternative medicine" is also a common term for medical marijuana.
Alternative medicines or therapies range from being scientifically provable to scientifically disproven, and can be benign (and often ridiculous) all the way to downright dangerous. Medical science has only recently started to do quality and quantity research into alternative medicine. With the exception of some surprising and exciting treatments that have true medical potential, the vast majority of the therapies do little if anything beyond the placebo effect. Even when the treatment actually does something, the reasons given by practitioners for why the treatment is effective are almost never based on correct scientific information. Benign treatments have the advantage of not directly injuring a patient, other than money going out the window. The ridiculous cannot possibly have any medical effects (beyond that of the placebo effect at the least), or may be actively dangerous to the patient.
All alternative medicine, even the "effective" therapies have the danger of convincing an unwell person to forgo actual medical treatments because they think they are getting better (which can happen with palliative remedies and placebos) or they choose to trust their alternative practitioner who is offering a "cure". For example, a person with cancer may convince himself to try a homeopathic remedy. Also, many herbal remedies can actually interfere with prescription drugs, lessening their effect or even causing dangerous side-effects. Since almost all alternative medicines are unproven; many advocates (known to some as "alties") tend to appeal to "health freedom," rather than actually try to prove that their nostrums work.
Problems with alternative medicines
Many practitioners exploit vulnerable patients. They give false hope to people who are incurably sick and frequently charge high prices for useless treatments. The belief that alternative medicines are somehow "less risky" or "less harsh" than conventional medicine has led some to take alternative medicine over conventional medicine. While this may often be true (though don't say that to someone who's lost skin or body parts to black salves sometimes used for skin cancers), the potential health risks of not taking conventional medicine for an illness far outweigh the risks from the side effects of these medicines.
Lack of regulation
When a student wants to become a physician, he or she must attend a certified medical school, pass rigorous medical exams, and participate in carefully monitored and regulated internships all regulated by the governmental bodies who licence the doctor. For the majority of alternative medicine, no such regulation is in place. For a few specific alternative therapies like chiropractic work and message therapy, regulatory bodies do exist. However, pretty much every other field of alternative medicine has no regulation at all. Call yourself a color therapist, and lo-and-behold, you are one.
There is also a lack of regulation in the products sold as "alternative" or "herbal" medicines. You cannot, for example, know what is in a "sleep healing tea", how much of each ingrediant, or how potent the pills are. Also, as there is little scientific research, "doses" are always a guess. "try one pill, if that doesn't work, take two".
Kinds of alternative medicine
You can't neatly brush it all into the quack corner.
Proven palliative effect
- Massage therapy — massage has real benefits such as temporary pain relief and increased circulation, but like all other woo, some less ethical therapists will sell it (and a line of smelly herbal additives) as a cure for almost anything.
- Chiropractic — has been shown to relieve some back and joint pain and mitigate some chronic headaches. Has the disadvantage that it can damage soft tissues if done wrong.
- Medical marijuana — Some adhere to the smokable version of this despite issues with proper dosing; its medicinal properties are also found (and precisely dosed) in Marinol, its drug-equivalent.
- Osteopathy — In North America it is a variant of mainstream medicine, albeit one with slightly different approaches to medicinal problems. Outside of the US there appears to be a great deal more quackery involved.
- various meditative, music, color, and aromatherapy have limited but highly successful effects for dealing with chronic pain, chronic stress, and other minor psychological side effects like sleeplessness and temper. It should be noted, this last list is specific to dealing with these issues, and not actually changing the amount of pain or stress.
- Acupuncture ("Pointillism", as it is known in the art world) — like the caricature of using voodoo dolls, but practiced on the
- Herbal supplements — some are fairly effective for some conditions; others close to useless.
- Oil pulling — does have some effect against tooth decay. Not much else, though.
- Aromatherapy — smelling nice has some social advantages and (probably) won't kill you. To cure anything other than the above, however, it's nonsensical.
- Reflexology — as a massage therapy it can reduce stress, but there is nothing it can cure
Somewhat benign, occasionally dangerous
- Chiropractic — to cure anything except back pain. Sometimes done on children and babies, which could risk breaking their spines.
- Colloidal silver — an alleged "natural" antibiotic, its only possible use is for that very tiny segment of the population that has a burning desire to look like a smurf.
- DMSO — an industrial solvent by-product of paper manufacture, used topically for a variety of health claims.
- Male enhancement capsules — To cure the desire to buy a large SUV.
- Ear candling — a silly practice alleged to draw toxins out of the ears.
- Coffee enemas — as ridiculous as ear candling, but exponentially more disgusting.
- Faith healing — attempts to use raw prayer and faith to heal. Too bad practitioners don't have any.
- Homeopathy — using dilute solutions with no remaining active ingredient to treat conditions.
- Magnetic field therapy
- Black salve — (aka cansema) a paste made from bloodroot that is said to "draw out" cancer cells in tumors; known for causing massive disfiguration. If chemotherapy is slash'n'burn, this stuff is a West Coast thousand-acre wildfire. 
- Laetrile — attempting to cure cancer using cyanogen compounds found in stonefruit pits, particularly apricots.
- New German Medicine — attempting to cure cancer using psychological conflict resolution.
- Trepanation — intentionally drilling a hole in one's head.
- Sungazing — staring at the sun cures all ills, especially chronic eyesight.
- What alternative health practitioners might not tell you
- Quackwatch: Full of useful information debunking many alternative medicines
- How To Spot a Quack Arthritis Cure (a good article which also applies to most other illnesses)
- Why Bogus Therapies Seem to Work, Barry Beyerstein
- Folk Medicine, Wikipedia.org