Just A Spoonful of Sugar…

Posted on January 11, 2010


Last month I questioned a Boots pharmacist over the instructions on some Arnica 30C pills they were selling.  I was simply following the instructions on the packaging that suggested in case of an overdose I should contact a pharmacist or doctor,  his response was somewhat confused and far short of the advice I would expect from a trained pharmacist.

The full story can be seen here:


So not really satisfied with the response I’d been given, I figured the only thing to do was to go directly to Boots Customer Services and Nelsons (the manufacturer).   They’d be able to give me clear answers to my questions!

Both Boots & Nelsons were asked the following questions:

1.       What dosage would constitute an overdose ?
2.        What would be the effects of an overdose ?

3.        What actions should be taken in the event of an accidental overdose ?

Simple enough questions, the packaging  gives a recommended dose of  “Take 2 pills every 2 hours for the first 6 doses and then 4 times daily“, and it does say seek advice from a doctor or pharmacist, however there are no details of the effects of taking too many of these pills.

The ingredients listed on the packaging are 30C Arnica Montana, Lactose & Sucrose.    

In any homeopathic remedy with a 30C dilution the chances of even a single molecule of the active ingredient still being present in a pill is so unlikely it isn’t even worth considering.

How they can actually get away with listing Arnica on the ingredients is beyond me …. let alone list it as an ‘active’ ingredient!

That just leaves us with Lactose & Sucrose ……… or to put it another way  SUGAR !

After a few days an email response came back from Nelsons:

In answer to your questions:-

1.       What dosage would constitute an overdose ?

Taking more than the directions specify

2.        What would be the effects of an overdose ?

See attached document (PDF HERE:  Arnica 30c pillules SPC )

3.        What actions should be taken in the event of an accidental overdose ?

Speak to a medically qualified doctor or visit A&E

We do hope the above information will be of some help.

So, I have an answer to Question One (how much) …. taking more than 2 pills every 2 hours would constitute an overdose !  I’m not really sure what I’d be overdosing on, but never mind they’ve sent me a document to answer Question Two, so at least I’ll know what symptoms to expect!

Reading through the supplied document, it soon became clear I may have been expecting too much!

Section 4.8 Undesirable effects:   None known
Section 4.9 :Overdose (Ah-ha, at last) None known (Oh bugger!)

So that leaves the answer to Question Three – WHAT !!! …….  They suggest that I visit A&E !

They’ve just told me that there are no undesirable effects and no known effects of an overdose, yet they say I should speak to a medically qualified Doctor or run down to the A&E.  I will just point out that this is different advice to that given on the product label.

Thankfully my visits to A&E units are fairly few and far between, but on the occasions that I have needed  to attend, the (often overworked) doctors & nurses all seem rather busy dealing with all manner injuries, I suspect all of them are of a more serious nature than somebody who has ingested less than a spoonful of sugar.

Oh well, I don’t suppose I could expect too much from a company who produce homeopathic pills …… Boots will give me some sensible answers!  So I waited for their response, then Christmas arrived, then New Year arrived, and I waited a few days longer.  Then after a small prompt, Boots replied:

Thank you for your patience in awaiting this response. First of all, I must apologise for the delay in being able to respond to your original comments.

I’m sorry to hear of the problems that you encountered when speaking to a pharmacist in our Loughborough store about the Nelsons Arnica 30c product.

With regard to your specific questions, I can only say that an overdose would be to take more tablets than the manufacturers recommend.  It is also possibly unlikely that any action would need to be taken as a result of taking more than the recommended dose, unless the person taking the tablets was sensitive to lactose.

We would normally expect our pharmacists to deal with a query about an actual overdose as appropriate.  However, for someone asking in advance about a possible overdose, then it would be reasonable to suggest speaking to a homeopathic prescriber for further guidance.

For any information relating to the advice provided on a non-Boots product, we would always recommend speaking directly to the manufacturers

As you can see, the response from one of the UK’s largest high street pharmacies wasn’t particularly helpful, actually less so than Nelsons.

Their advice on how many pills constitute an overdose agrees with that given by Nelsons ….. basically anything more than the 2 Arnica pills in 2 hours.  And their comment of  “possibly unlikely that any action would need to be taken” would also seem to confirm that there would be no effect of taking an overdose, but seems to disagree with Nelsons advice to run off to the nearest A&E and make myself  look like a complete arse!

Boots then go on to say that they would expect their pharmacists to deal with an actual overdose as appropriate – But they’ve just told me that it’s “possibly unlikely” I’d need to do anything!  So would that pharmacist just tell me to go away ….. maybe an opportunity to find out will present itself!

The pharmacist and Boots customer care have both advised me to seek guidance from a  “homeopathic prescriber“.  I’m sorry Boots, that’s just a cop out. You sell these products,  you provide a set of cards for customers to look up symptoms and see which homeopathic remedy they should purchase.  In other words, by making them available in your pharmacies and providing your customers with a method of choosing the right remedy – – – You are the homeopathic prescriber!

Boots need to seriously look at the damage homeopathy does to their reputation, a quick Google search just using the words ‘Boots homeopathy‘, should make them hang their heads in shame.   Boots Professional Standards Director Paul Bennett has openly admitted that they have no evidence to show that homeopathic remedies work, they sell them simply because people are willing to buy them.

Part of the reason that people still buy these remedies, is that seeing them on the shelves of retailers like Boots implies some level of effectiveness.  Boots know these are just sugar pills, yet they’ll still sell them at £5 a bottle!   Paul Bennett should either change his job title to avoid the use of the term ‘Professional Standards‘, or even better, he should actually live up to his job title and remove these products from sale.

A few items of interest:

The MHRA’s document on Nelsons Arnicare Arnica 30C: MHRA ARNICA Document

(External links)

Hampshire Skeptics Society – So What Wouldn’t Boots Sell?

1023 Campaign – Open Letter To Boots:

Quackometer: Storm in a Tea Cup

Leicester Mercury: Boots, homeopathy and a question of trust.

Posted in: Homeopathy, Skeptic