Homeopathic and herbal products quick reference guide

KEY POINTS

• There is no evidence to support the clinical efficacy of homeopathic products beyond a placebo effect, and no scientific basis for homeopathy.

• Pharmacists selling homeopathic products must be competent to do so and be able to discuss with patients the lack of evidence for the efficacy of homeopathic products and their formulation.

• Pharmacists should ensure, wherever possible, that patients do not stop taking their prescribed conventional medication when they take a homeopathic product.

• Pharmacists should be aware that patients requesting homeopathic products may have serious underlying undiagnosed medical conditions that would require referral to another healthcare professional.

• Pharmacists should not knowingly sell homeopathic products for serious medical conditions. However, it is recognised people will self select homeopathic products from open display often without consulting a pharmacist.

• Royal Pharmaceutical Society does not endorse homeopathy as a form of treatment.

What is the aim of this quick reference guide?
The guide aims to outline the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's (RPS) current position with respect to homeopathy, and to advise pharmacists on how to deal with patient requests for homeopathic and herbal products.

What is homeopathy?
Homeopathy has been defined as a holistic complementary and alternative therapy based on the concept of “like to treat like” and involves the administration of dilute and ultradilute products prepared according to methods given in homeopathic pharmacopoeias.

What are Herbal Preparations?
Herbal preparations contain plant derived materials, either as raw or processed ingredients which may be from one or more plants.

What are the differences between homeopathic and herbal products?
The public can confuse homeopathic with herbal products, as homeopathic products are often derived from herbs and are called by their botanical name, e.g. aloe, and also because a single manufacturer may produce both homeopathic and herbal products. Pharmacists can help the public understand the difference between homeopathy and herbal products.  A table highlighting the main differences between homeopathic and herbal products can be viewed here.

What is the evidence for homeopathy?
There is no scientific or clinical evidence to support the efficacy of homeopathic products, although anecdotal reports of their effectiveness have been published, particularly when used as part of individualised homeopathic treatment by a homeopathic practitioner.

Does RPS endorse homeopathy?
Given the lack of clinical and scientific evidence to support homeopathy, the RPS does not endorse homeopathy as a form of treatment. Within the Code of Ethics and the Professional Standards and Guidance for the Sale and Supply of Medicines, standards of practice for those pharmacists involved in homeopathy are provided. However, this should not be viewed as an endorsement of homeopathy as a form of treatment by RPS.

What advice should pharmacists give patients?
If a patient requests advice on homeopathy, the pharmacist should advise on the lack of evidence on the efficacy of homeopathic products, discuss the formulation and composition of the product, and provide advice relevant to the patient’s condition. Pharmacists should also ensure that patients do not stop taking their prescribed medication if they take a homeopathic product.

When should I refer a patient?
Pharmacists will be in a position to identify serious, underlying undiagnosed medical conditions requiring the patients to be referred to another healthcare professional.

What conditions should homeopathic products be used to treat?
Homeopathic products should only be used for the treatment of minor, self-limiting conditions, and must never be used for the treatment of serious medical conditions.

How are homeopathic products licensed?
For the purpose of licensing, the MHRA does not currently require homeopathic products to demonstrate efficacy, only quality and safety.

Are all homeopathic products ultradilute?
Although most homeopathic products are ultradilute and the starting material will have been diluted to below Avogadro’s number, it is possible for some homeopathic products to contain significant (measureable) quantities of the starting material. However, in MHRA licensed products available from community pharmacies, the starting material will have been considerably diluted.


Download and print a copy of this quick reference guide.