Even real doctors can indulge in quackery

My local paper recently ran a piece about a doctor, Dustin Sulak, whose practice has exploded since Maine expanding its medical marijuana laws. While the man is a legitimate doctor – and while I support his efforts to responsibly prescribe marijuana to those who need it – I found a couple of parts of the article tremendously disappointing.

On the wall of Sulak’s examination room, next to his diplomas and state license, are framed certificates naming him a Reiki master and a clinical hypnotherapist.

An advocate for alternative medicine, Sulak gives his patients advice about healthier lifestyle choices, and many of them leave his office with bottles of supplements sold at the reception desk.

There is no evidence for the efficacy of Reiki and it rests on no scientific grounds in any regard. In fact, a major basis for it is the existence of Chakras. And guess what? They’re made up.

As far as hypnotherapy is concerned, I’m told by a psychology graduate student (who has recently received his master’s degree and is on his way to becoming a doctor) that in order for hypnosis to be practiced with any worth, it is generally necessary that the practitioner be a psychologist. I do not believe Dr. Sulak has those credentials, but I am not certain. At any rate, Dr. Sulak may be effective in his use of this practice. (See clarification here.)

Where the article says he is an advocate for alternative medicine and he recommends healthy lifestyle choices, it makes me rather queasy to see the paper trying to associate the two notions. First, if alternative medicine was medicine, we would just call it medicine. Second, any doctor will recommend healthy lifestyle choices. But it is unclear what that means in this context.

I’m also not a fan whatsoever of his anti-sunscreen position. Sunscreen ought to be used whenever long exposure to the sun is likely. That prevents cancer. End of story.

Also, he says this about cell phones:

I recommend using speaker phone, or a headset that has a plastic tube or a ferrite bead to prevent transmission of radiation into the ear. Please keep your cell phones away from children’s heads and pregnant mothers’ bellies!

For one of my cancer classes I recall the professor asking us to look into the evidence for a cell phone-cancer link and to let him know what we thought, how we felt about potential bans, etc. I had to say, the evidence was exceedingly weak. We have been using cell phones for a couple decades (we all remember Saved by the Bell), and we’ve been using them heavily for the past decade. Well over 4 billion people are on them daily. We have a load of studies. We have give ample opportunity for cancer to rear its tenacious head; no causative link exists. Let’s be done with this unwarranted fascination until there is some positive evidence to examine. Please.

Dr. Sulak also seems skeptical of vaccines, but he is far from explicit, only posting a few videos critical of the reaction to H1N1. The government’s response was generally appropriate (though we did end up throwing away a lot expired vaccines) and I hope to see something similar if we find ourselves on the brink of another potential – and preventable – epidemic. Besides, the anti-vax crowd has already caused enough deaths.

In summary, I’m rather skeptical of parts of Dr. Sulak’s practice, but virtually none of it could be called quackery. Unfortunately, the key word in that sentence is “virtually”. His use of Reiki is out-and-out, pure quackery. The ‘field’ rests on notions of palm healing, the proposition of fictional Chakras, and it has no physical basis. Reiki is not science and it has no place in real medicine.

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2 comments on “Even real doctors can indulge in quackery

  1. I just wanted to say a little something about cell phones and vaccines.

    Radio frequency radiation is in fact dangerous. A lot of old school radio DJ’s are bald, ever notice that? This was really back in the days when the radio station and the radio transmitter were very close together. BUT your talking a lot of radio energy, not the measly 2 watts they put out today or even at the almost 4 watts analog phone used in days past.

    The limit on handheld radios is 5 watts and IT IS suggested that you keep the thing away from your head as much as possible, but that has more to do with people trying to swallow it and making the transmission unintelligible.

    Like you said there is no real cause and effect to speak of regarding cancer. Not that it isn’t a bad idea to use a hands free device anyway. We are bombarded with enough radio energy as it is and a little less could only be a good thing, but there is no reasonable danger to speak of.

    With vaccines…. I dunno I don’t think some of them should be given as often as they are. The chicken pox vaccine for example. Chicken pox are not very dangerous and what concerns me is the lack of exercise to our immune systems if we try and ensure that we never ever ever get even a little sick.

    I don’t get flu shots for example and never once considered getting the H1N1 vaccine. The idea that they can cause even worse ailments such as autism (was that one? I think so) is insane. As long as the testing and development is kept stringent I don’t see the problem.

    Some of these shots should be limited to the people at risk of death from the illness and not for everyone who just doesn’t want to get a sniffle. Getting a little bug every now and then is probably good for you. Like kids putting things in their mouth, I hear that may be an evolutionary thing to get our immune systems used to the environment. Than again kids aren’t much smarter than monkeys until they are 2 or three (that’s my opinion, some people aren’t smarter when they are 18)

  2. As the graduate student mentioned above, I should clarify my comment. When it comes to hypnotherapy, as used to treat psychological issues, you should be licensed in psychology before practicing hypnotherapy. However, hypnosis can be used in many fields, including medicine. And like psychology, hypnosis, as used to treat medical issues, should be done so only with a medical license. Sorry for the confusion.

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