A(nother) case for Coleus fornicans

Amidst the mammoth ding-dong going on over at The Telegraph, under an article entitled ‘Homeopathy on the NHS to be reviewed‘, a recent comment and ensuing sub-thread reminded me of something from my time as a frustrated, flailing researcher, and to which I thought worth posting a comment link… and subsequently re-airing here.


A case for Coleus fornicans

Recently, an early middle-aged research scientist, with over a decade’s experience in molecular and cell biology, joined our laboratory. After a time, it became apparent that he was an experimental phobic, having been suffering from severe negative and irreproducible results intermittently over several years, and, instead of grant-writing, had resorted instead to a developed propensity for misguidedly talking to himself in public. When asked why he felt such trepidation, he would reply that he knew it would fail, or that equipment would break during an experiment, enough to make him cancel or postpone the experiment at the last minute. He confessed to finding the whole experimental rigmarole a distressing and daunting ordeal. Eventually, he let me have a look at his lab books: if I required more evidence of his condition, the erratic and intermittent entries provided it – classic ‘Anxious Researcher Syndrome (ARS)’

One morning, he came in to work complaining of a sleepless night because of his ARS, but nevertheless ready to try that experiment. Once attired in lab coat, however, he became very anxious and, holding his head, screamed, “Look, it won’t fucking work!”, threw off his lab coat and marched off to the toilet. Upon returning, he said he would conduct the experiment in the afternoon, as having had nothing to eat, wanted to make sure he didn’t miss lunch. Later that afternoon, he expressed readiness; but, every time he donned his lab coat and went to the freezer, the same symptoms returned. This pattern was repeated over the course of several weeks, with various excuses: weakness, trembling, sweating, headaches and so on.

One day, when it was apparent that this sequence was going to repeat itself, and that he would attend the forthcoming lab meeting with, again, nothing to present, I suggested a homeopathic remedy to calm his nerves. Being a scientist (a label that, by his own admission, was becoming tenuous), he was initially very sceptical. However, desperate for help and the avoidance of another sleepless night, he acquiesced to my proffering of 50c pilules of extract of Coleus fornicans, to be taken regularly, with the reassurance that I would not pressure him with the protocol until he felt relaxed.

After a few doses, much to his amazement (and noting the sweet taste), he had calmed down in to a mood conducive to starting the experiment. Although occasionally interrupted by a need to visit the toilet, he came back feeling better and was able to continue work. The experiment was complicated, but he coped well, and subsequently obtained a good result. I gave him further Coleus for use three times per day for the next week. He was very relieved and confessed surprise at his improved condition, and how he had managed the experiment after taking Coleus. He said it reminded him of how he felt in that time of promise when things used to work. He then set to planning a whole raft of further experiments.

Coleus fornicans is native to Chile’s Atacama desert. Although a flowering plant, its mode of pollination is undetermined. It emerges from a double bulb, from which emanates copious fine roots. It is not to be confused with its Antarctic relative, Coleus extremis, the bulb of which is degenerate by comparison. There are a lot of things to say about this plant, which, although I’m not sure of their relevance, all sound very scientific, making for useful marketing material.

That our patient has regained his scientific mojo is apparent from his nascent tendency to question the mechanism of his remedy. If a small dose of ‘like’ can cure a condition produced by a large dose of ‘like’, then presumably an overdose of C. fornicans extract would render the imbiber into complete torpor (often virtually his symptom prior to treatment). However, although it is too toxic to test for this at high concentration, this likely accounts for the deaths of people consuming the plant in the Atacama. Also, in the preparation process, what happens to the organic solvent-extracted cocktail of compounds upon transfer to aqueous diluent? Presumably the volatile alcohol disappears during succussion, and the water retains no memory of it.

However, illogicality is not disproof. Our ARS patient is testimony that talking Coleus fornicans can work.


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