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.

Hiking quiz

Can anyone tell me where this is?

Update: I guess I forgot I have the Internet. It’s Caminito del Rey. Take a look.