Strychnine for your child's cold - courtesy of your friendly homeopath

I was in the pharmacy section of my local grocery store last week, looking for children's ibuprofen, when I stumbled upon Children's ColdCalm, a homeopathic product from Boiron.

This stuff isn't cheap - it's $12.49 at RiteAid, and the price is similar at my local grocery stores (Giant Foods and Whole Foods). If you follow the instructions, you'll give half the package (40 pills) to your child in the first 12 hours.

Not only is it expensive, but it doesn't work - or at least there's no evidence that it does. Boiron is selling parents sugar pills and telling them that it will cure their children of colds. Here's what the package says, right on the front: "Multi-Symptom Cold Relief, Sneezing, Runny Nose, Nasal Congestion, Minor Sore Throat."

Since it's in the "Colds" section of the pharmacy, most parents probably assume this is just like any other medicine. But it's not. It's a homeopathic drug.

The manufacturer, Boiron, makes very specifc claims on their website. Here's a partial list of ColdCalm's ingredients with their claimed benefits:
Belladonna 6C HPUS * Relieves colds with a sudden onset
Eupatorium perfoliatum 3C HPUS * Relieves sinus pain
Gelsemium sempervirens 6C HPUS * Relieves headaches associated with colds
Kali bichromicum 6C HPUS * Relieves nasal discharge
Nux vomica 3C HPUS * Relieves sneezing attacks
Phytolacca decandra 6C HPUS * Relieves sore throat associated with colds
Pulsatilla 6C HPUS * Relieves colds with a loss of taste and smell
What the heck are these? Belladonna sounds familiar - oh yes, that because it's an extremely toxic plant, also called Deadly Nightshade, one of the most poisonous plants in the Western hemisphere.

And "nux vomica": that sounds suspicious. Maybe that's because it is actually strychnine! Yes, that's right, strychnine, once used as rat poison, which is fatal to adults in doses as small as 30 milligrams. I wonder how much Boiron recommends that we give to children?

According to the American Cancer Society:
"Strychnos nux-vomica has not been proven effective for the treatment of any illness. Since the seeds contain strychnine, which is poisonous to humans, conventional medical practitioners do not recommend it as a medicine. Some research has shown that the level of poison in nux vomica preparations may depend greatly on how the seeds are processed."
Need I say more? Pulsutilla, another ingredient in ColdCalm, is a poisonous plant that produces toxins that slow the heart and can cause convulsions.

Is this how they want to cure my child's cold?

But wait, these are homeopathic medicines, which means they've been diluted down to nothing. So perhaps there's so little strychnine in the pills that it won't hurt your child, at least not too much. In ColdCalm, though, the dilutions aren't as tiny as the ones used in typical homeopathic preparations: 3C is one part in 1 million, so there might be some strychnine left in these tablets. We really don't know. A huge problem here is that none of these claims have been tested, so no one (including Boiron) knows what strychnine at these dilutions does to a child. Nor can they say precisely how much strychnine is in each tablet.

You might have noticed the abbreviation HPUS in that ingredient list: this refers to the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia, a list of homeopathic drugs. HPUS drugs cannot be regulated by the FDA. Yes, you read that right. Homeopathic drugs are approved automatically as long as the homeopaths themselves list them in their "pharmacopoeia." No evidence of efficacy is required. We have Congress to thank for this - specifically, the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act of 1938, which granted a special exception to homeopathic drugs. The Act was authored primarily by a Senator who believed in homeopathy.

I wrote about Boiron's ridiculous Oscillococcinum flu "cure" last year, but I didn't realize they have a whole line of bogus treatments for colds and flu. And Boiron isn't some small mom-and-pop operation: it's a huge multi-national company selling nothing but homeopathic products, making huge profits selling treatments that don't work.

So parents, if you see "homeopathic" on that package in the pharmacy, you might want to look a little harder at what they're selling you.


  1. Usually the criticism is that homeopathic medicines does not have any active ingredient because of very high dilution. So even if strychnine is used it would be it will be too low concentration.

  2. That's correct, usually homeopathic solutions are diluted to nothing. That's one reason why I took note of this one - 3C means it was diluted 3 successive times at a 1:100 ratio. But the original preparation has an unspecified amount of strychnine in it, so we don't know how much is in the pills.

  3. « Omnia venenum sunt: nec sine veneno quicquam existit. Dosis sola facit, ut venenum non fit. »
    Dear Steven,i agree with you but why don't you use the same approach also for chemoterapics that are in many cases only poisons without any positive effect for the patients? (the only positive effect is in the bigpharma profits).


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