• Let’s play a game.

I have 75 grams of pure arsenic.  The minimal lethal dose of (one dose) is 70-200 milligrams of the material.  However, one milligram per kilogram of body weight per day over several days can be fatal as well.

I didn’t choose 75 grams by accident.  That’s the molar mass of arsenic.  A mole (chemistry) is 6.02×1023 atoms.  This value is based on the atomic mass.  Basically, if you have the atomic mass in grams of a substance, then you will have 6.02×1023  atoms/molecules/whatever of that substance.

Seventy-five grams is about 1,000 times the lethal dose.

I prepare a 1 molar solution of the arsenic.  That’s taking the 75 grams and mixing it with enough water to make a solution of exactly one liter. Here’s the game.  How much will I have to dilute the arsenic before you will drink it?

Obviously, if you drink the liter of solution as is, you’ll die.

Let’s take 10 milliliters of the solution out and mix it into another 990 milliliters of water.  This will get us exactly 1 liter of the new solution.  How much arsenic is in the new solution? We’ll assume an even distribution (which is a good assumption for well mixed solutions).  We’ve got 1/100th of the material from the original solution, so we have about .75 grams of arsenic in the new solution.

That’s 750 milligrams of arsenic.  The molarity (amount of solute per liter) is 0.01 mol/liter.  .  We’re still well above the lethal dose.  I wouldn’t drink it at this point.  Let’s call this solution 1C.

It’s still too dangerous, so let’s make solution 2C by doing the same thing.  Take ten milliliters of 1C and mix into another 990 milliliters of pure water.  Now we’re to 0.0001 mol/liter or about 0.0075 grams of arsenic in the solution.  That’s 7.5 milligrams and well below the ‘insta-kill’ value.  Of course, if you drink a liter of this solution every day for a week or so, then it would probably be fatal as well.

Still, better to be safe than sorry.  I’m not terribly interested in drinking this one.  Let’s do it one more time and make solution 3C.  Now we have 0.000001 mol/liter or about 0.000075 grams of arsenic in the solution.  That’s 0.075 milligrams.

The World Health Organization has stated “Most waters in the world have natural arsenic concentrations of less than 0.01 mg/litre.” That’s based on the ability to detect arsenic in water.

WHO’s Guideline Value for arsenic in drinking water is 0.01 mg /litre. This figure is limited by the ability to analyse low concentrations of arsenic in water.

Our next iteration is solution 4C.  That’s 0.00000001 mol/liter or about 0.00000075 grams (0.00075 milligrams).  At this point, we’re about 10 parts per billion range.  Recent research has determined that that 0.00017 milligrams per liter over long periods results in arsenicosis.

We are well below the lethal dose here, except over long periods of time.  The US Environmental Protection Agency has declared that the standard maximum arsenic in drinking water is 10 part per billion.  So, not only is this level drinkable, it’s probably what you are drinking now.  It’s what the majority of the world is actually drinking now.

In 2009, a highly sensitive test for arsenic was developed. This system could detect arsenic in concentrations as low as 3 parts per trillion.

Our 5C solution gets close to that.  The 5C solution contains just 0.0000075 milligrams of arsenic per liter.  That’s equivalent to 100 parts per trillion.  Which is still easily detectable.

The 6C concentration brings us to 1 part per trillion, which is totally undetectable by humans at this time.  We have 0.0000000000075 grams  per liter of arsenic.  This is considerably lower than the majority of drinking water in the world.

You would have to drink 10,000 liters of this water to reach the amount of arsenic in one liter of ‘safe’ water.

What does this have to do with homeopathy?

If you look at bottles of homeopathic materials, they will be labeled with a “C” value.  Every “C” is one of our 1/100th dilutions.  So something that is 6C is about 1 part per trillion.

For example, in this bottle, we have

Throat and Tonsil Dr. is 100% homeopathic and contains the following ingredients: Belladonna (30C), Cleavers, Merc sol (6C), Sage, Gelsemium (6C), Bladderwrack, Green Oats.

Whatever the heck “Gelsemium’ is, it’s essentially undetectable in this bottle.  Same for “Merc Sol”, whatever that is.

I know what Belladonna is… well, I thought I did until I discovered it is also the name of a type of cannabis.  Which makes things very interesting.  Although, it doesn’t matter, because there is none of whatever-it-is in the bottle.

A “30C” has been diluted by this 1/100th process 30 times.  This is a dilution of 1060.  To give you an example of the size of this… it’s roughly equivalent to one molecule out of every possible molecule using known elements.  If that’s a little abstract, you can think of it like this.

There are about 1080 atoms in the observable universe.  A dilution of 40C would be picking out one atom out of the entire universe.  So, a 30C dilution is maybe picking one atom out of the entire Milky Way galaxy.  That’s a rough estimate, because it doesn’t matter.  We’re into the realm of the ridiculous here.

For all practical purposes, any 4 ounce bottle of liquid (that people are paying \$40+ a bottle for) is undifferentiated from water.  Indeed (and this is rather disturbing), the amount of contaminants in the water is higher than the amount of homeopathic ingredients in the water.*

Let me just say a final world about these dilutions.  The point in homeopathy is to have the ‘active ingredient’ impart its ‘vital energy’ to the water (or sugar or alcohol).  In this way, you supposedly get the benefits of the active ingredient without actually having any of it in the solution.

First, water is water.  You can’t change it physically with another substance and you can’t change it chemically or it won’t be water anymore.  If you add energy, then it gets hotter… not becomes something that will cure the flu.  You can’t change the shape of the water molecule.

Second, as we’ve seen above, in a 30C dilution, there is almost zero chance that any of the water molecules in a 4-ounce bottle have even been in the same container as any of the ‘active ingredient’.  At 6C, the active ingredient is undetectable.  Then we dilute the material another 24 times.

This is roughly equivalent of taking a molecule out of the Milky Way galaxy and picking another molecule from across the galaxy and saying that, at one point, they were in the same asteroid.

Even if there was some vital energy (there isn’t), there’s no way that just a handful of molecules can affect the human body or the trillions of viruses that invade our bodies every day.  The best hope for viruses is still about the only thing that actually works on viruses, our immune system.

Just drink the water to stay hydrated.  It’s cheaper and just as effective as homeopathic remedies.

One final note for anyone who says “It helps me.”  Please look up the placebo effect and confirmation bias.

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According to one research report, the best reverse osmosis filters can remove up to 95% of arsenic.  Meaning that even if the manufacturer of these homeopathic remedies use RO filtered water, there is still up to 0.0005 milligrams of arsenic per liter in the solution.  Since the arsenic would be in all the water, not just added to the first batch, dilution would have no effect of the arsenic level.

Category: MedicineSkepticism