Acupuncture is dead

I would like to think so. Maybe if we say it enough, it will come true.

David Colquhoun writes in Acupuncture is a theatrical placebo: the end of a myth:

Anesthesia & Analgesia is the official journal of the International Anesthesia Research Society. In 2012 its editor, Steven Shafer, proposed a head-to-head contest between those who believe that acupuncture works and those who don’t. I was asked to write the latter. It has now appeared in June 2013 edition of the journal. The pro-acupuncture article written by Wang, Harris, Lin and Gan appeared in the same issue.

Acupuncture is an interesting case, because it seems to have achieved greater credibility than other forms of alternative medicine, despite its basis being just as bizarre as all the others. As a consequence, a lot more research has been done on acupuncture than on any other form of alternative medicine, and some of it has been of quite high quality. The outcome of all this research is that acupuncture has no effects that are big enough to be of noticeable benefit to patients, and it is, in all probablity, just a theatrical placebo.

After more than 3000 trials, there is no need for yet more. Acupuncture is dead.

You can see the piece by Colquhoun and Novella at the link. It’s an EXCELLENT piece, full of links and references. Solid stuff. Acupuncturists just can’t hold up against the overwhelming evidence that their effect is small and transient. Not worth the hype at all. Of course, one will always get the “it works for me” argument. But the point is, we are looking at acupuncture as a whole, as a treatment, regardless of who uses it. When this is done, it fails. So, the conclusion must be, if it works for you, it’s you making it work for yourself, not that it actually works for anyone else.

  7 comments for “Acupuncture is dead

  1. May 30, 2013 at 1:04 PM

    “If it works for you, it’s you making it work for yourself” – Well said.

  2. May 30, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    Based on my personal experience, I think any effect felt from acupuncture is simply the placebo effect. There is also some therapeutic benefit from just having human contact, even if the other human is sticking needles in you.

    I have fibromyalgia, and several other chronic physical and psychological disorders, and when the pain first hit and began to spread, I was willing to try almost any kind of therapy. I had access to subsidized acupuncture through the BC Compassion Club Society, Canada’s first and largest medical Cannabis club with an attached wellness center that provided a variety of alternative therapies. I had about 18 weeks of weekly one hour acupuncture and cupping, which is even more weird than the needles. My experience was that I felt some therapeutic value during the sessions, but not afterwards. Because my pain had caused me to withdraw socially, I really appreciated the human contact with the acupunturist, however I never had any lasting beneficial effect from it. Probably the needles distracted me from my pain, but they never ended it.

    I also tried Reiki at that clinic, but the only benefit I felt from that was from talking with the person during the session. In fact, I found it quite frustrating because what I really wanted, and craved, was human touch, which Reiki does not do. Massage therapy would have been far more beneficial, but I never could afford that on a regular basis, which is what I would need.

    Doctors also thought that an antidepressant would help my chronic pain, so I tried that for several years, but that too did not work so stopped after several years. I have since read that pain reduction from antidepressants is almost certainly the placebo effect. So far, Cannabis has proven to be the most effective and safe remedy for my chronic pain, and the science shows that is not simply a placebo effect.

  3. RayG
    May 30, 2013 at 2:51 PM

    If you REALLY want to kill Acupuncture… DON’T ALLOW INSURANCE PLANS TO COVER IT. As much as I complain to her about it, my wife goes once a month and they charge $150 a pop. It’s covered other than the $25 copay. If she didn’t HAVE the insurance, it’s only $75 cash.

  4. cgosling
    May 31, 2013 at 12:37 AM

    There are several kinds of acupuncture from the old Asian hocus-pocus channels of energy to some modern explanations based upon placebo and distraction. Distraction is similar to the use of a topical “Ben Gay” like substance which introduces heat, irritation, or a burning sensation to distract from the original pain. Another distraction is a soothing caress or deep massage which also has the potential to confuse your pain receptors. So, in one sense, accupuncture kind of works, but certainly not in the way practitioners usually try to explain it.
    Published positive papers on the subject usually are found in Asian or non American/European Research journals but seldom published otherwise.
    Insurance companies love it and cover it because it’s cheaper than traditional treatment.

  5. One Eyed Jack
    May 31, 2013 at 7:43 PM

    There is also some therapeutic benefit from just having human contact, even if the other human is sticking needles in you.

    I get stuck with a needle at least once a week and it never makes me feel good. Our lab requires fresh blood samples from non-medicated donors for certain assays. When I say I gave at the office, I really mean it.

  6. One Eyed Jack
    May 31, 2013 at 7:46 PM

    they charge $150 a pop. It’s covered other than the $25 copay. If she didn’t HAVE the insurance, it’s only $75 cash.

    This is the exact opposite of what happens with most hospitals. Patients without insurance pay a higher price for the same care that is paid for by insurance companies. The insurance companies negotiate discounts, using their large client base as leverage. It’s a sick game… literally.

  7. Michael Erlich, MD
    June 3, 2013 at 6:48 PM

    As an anesthesiologist I have had some experience with acupuncture. The first was as a resident in training in 1976, when an acupuncturist did a demonstration on me. I had a toothache at the time, and he inserted and manipulated a needle in my hand to allegedly ease the pain. The only effect was local pain at the needling site.

    The second time was a few years later when I was in private practice at a community hospital. A acupuncturist came in for a diagnostic procedure that would normally be done under a brief general anesthetic. The patient’s partner insisted on performing “acupuncture anesthesia” for the cystoscopy (bladder examination.) After about 15 minutes of needling the urologist started. The patient said there was no pain, but the sweat on his brow and the marked increases of blood pressure and heart rate contradicted his assertions. I was not impressed, and I am still convinced it is all woo.

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