This article “What Do Doctors Say To ‘Alternative Therapists’ When a Patient Dies?” by Ranjana Srivastava appeared on my Facebook newsfeed yesterday. I couldn’t resist reading it. I think you should read it too.
First of all, it is clear I am a big nerd when this is the most eye catching thing I saw on Facebook.
But, the big reason it is eye catching is because I was curious what it would say. And it said what I thought it would. We say nothing. We don’t talk about it with others. We talk about it amongst ourselves.
It also echoed a lot of feelings I would describe having around alternative therapies.
I am probably one of the more “loosey-goosey” of the people in my department when it comes to alternative therapies. I am touchy feely, I inherently trust people and I do believe that there is value in a lot of things we can’t or haven’t necessarily studied. I’m that kid who did a presentation on medical marijuana in research rounds and concluded that it isn’t all bad and we really need to look into the stuff more because people are using it whether or not we think they are or should.
I ask people what they take over the counter or with supplements. I explain why I ask. You see, some products, although “natural” act in ways that counteract the actions of chemotherapies or radiation or other drugs. Sometimes in terribly harmful ways. Ways that make cancers not respond to treatments. Or ways that make side effects worse. I ask because I care. Not because I want to judge you or make you feel foolish.
Actually, some of the drugs that we give people are “natural.” Some chemotherapies are plant derived. They are natural and very toxic, but when used appropriately can treat cancers.
I see nothing wrong with trying something different when nothing is working. I see nothing wrong with adding things that have low risks of harms that may help. I see nothing wrong with doing things that are healthy for you.
I do see something wrong with people who are encouraged to spend their life savings on a “miracle drug.” When people risk their lives to procure enough cannabis to make the oil they were told online was a “cure.” When people entrust their health to internet “doctors” and people who make a profit from preying on the sick and the scared.
Many of the “miracle” agents on the internet are anecdotes. Sure, everything starts as an anecdote. But, that is why things are tested, because we are often wrong and they are one-off events.
There is some laboratory in anecdotal data about cannabinoids. I’m not refuting it. I’ve read it. But, there is no cold hard evidence for it as a cure for cancer in humans beyond the odd case. Could it be coming? Maybe… But that day isn’t today. And there is cold hard evidence for other treatments in some cancers.
It scares me that some people believe the person that will make a fortune off of them buying their concoctions is more trustworthy than the person who makes the same amount of money whether or not they take the treatment. It upsets me that people think I am the one brainwashed because I am offering medicine with evidence behind it, with the experience of time, the monitoring of governing bodies and the backup of provincial funding.
It terrifies me to know that supplements and some complementary therapies (not all) are not regulated at all. In fact, often they aren’t even containing what they claim or have contaminants that can be harmful. And people die from complications from these therapies. Just like conventional medicine. But in a lot of cases we don’t even know some of the risks.
When something claims to work almost all of the time or have no side effects… It probably isn’t for real. Too good to be true is something I see a lot. But people want it to be true. And why not? Some people have nothing left to lose. But really, everyone has something to lose.
It also makes me sad that some of my colleagues think all complementary or alternative therapies are bad or dangerous. It is scary to see people doing things we don’t understand, so I get it. And it is hard to trust when people you cared for and gave your all for die, sometimes because they gave it all up for the wrong choice.
Miracles happen. There are things we don’t understand how they work, but they do. There are things we know do work and they scare some people because of misinformation or lies spread through all kinds of media.
When people forgo conventional treatments or risk counteracting treatments for something advertised on the internet or sold by an alternative provider, it makes me uncomfortable. I’ll be honest. When people die doing this, it makes me sad.
Complimentary and alternative therapies can be many things… I send people for massages, acupuncture, reiki and I think chiropractors do good work. I encourage spirituality and and exercise. I preach good diets and appropriate vitamin supplementation depending on need. I think cannabis can be an option for some people for symptom control. I am okay with you doing something else so long as it isn’t putting you or your treatment at risk. I can’t stop you from doing something I don’t agree with or trust because you are your own person. But, I can be honest and tell you why it is concerning. I can review the evidence. I can help you interpret it because I have a background in reading that kind of stuff when many people don’t. I’d rather know than not know in any case because your health is important to me. And I make no gains or losses by having someone take “my treatments.”
I just want people to be healthy and safe.
Conventional medicine can’t save everyone. Neither can alternative medicine.
It is scary, but things go wrong. Alternative therapies (namely the various supplements and drugs and cleanses) can cause a lot of problems. But, we don’t talk about it when things go right. We also don’t talk about it when things go wrong.
Talking would be a good start. Regulations would be wonderful.
There will always be people out there trying to make money and preying on the sick and vulnerable. Sadly, these people give everyone a bad reputation and are the source of my distrust and skepticism. I know there are practitioners out there who think they are doing good and maybe are not. That is where better regulations and research could make a change. And I know there are practitioners out there doing amazing work with the best interest of the patient at heart.
An open mind is good. Educated professionals are better. But, I think that opening up the lines of communication between professionals but also with patients could make a movement towards making a difference. At least in some cases.