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More about CAM

There’s quite a lot about CAM today, including in The Independent. For what it’s worth, here is a brief summary of what I think, based on over 30 years’ experience of various forms of CAM.

1. Most forms of CAM exert their effects mainly or entirely via the placebo effect. This is probably true of homeopathy.
2. The placebo effect is important and respectable and is all that we have available to treat many common sources of suffering, including “stress” and some kinds of pain.
3. Some physical treatments generally classed as CAM, such as acupuncture, osteopathy, and chiropractic probably do have specific effects over and above their placebo effect, which is doubtless considerable.

The following comments apply specifically to acupuncture.

1. The traditional theory of acupuncture (”points”, “meridians” etc.) is of historical and cultural interest only and is not needed in modern practice. It is possible to provide neurophysiological explanations for acupuncture effects that are plausible and may even be to some extent correct.
2. There are several different ways of practising acupuncture in a non-traditional context and all have about the same success rates. This may or may not be considered reassuring.
3. Modern acupuncture (a.k.a Western medical acupuncture) should be integrated into mainstream medicine and should cease to be regarded as CAM.

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