Energy medicine is one of five domains of “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) identified by the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) in the United States.
The approaches vary wildly in philosophy, approach, and origin. The U.S. National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine divides energy medicine approaches into two general categories.
Therapies predicated on theorized forms of “energy” unconfirmed by scientific investigation are known as putative energy medicine.Therapies which rely on known forms of energy, such as electromagnetism are termed “veritable” energy therapies.
Some claims of those purveying ‘energy medicine’ devices are known to be fraudulent. Their marketing practices have drawn law enforcement action in the U.S.
Varieties Of Energy Medicine
The term “energy medicine” has been in general use since the founding of the non-profit International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine in the 1980s and was further defined by two books, each titled Energy Medicine, one which is a guide for practitioners and one which surveys existing research evidence.
Energy medicine often proposes that imbalances in the body’s “energy field”result in illness, and that by re-balancing the body’s energy field health can be restored.
NCCAM distinguishes between complementary and alternative interventions involving actual, well-known forms of physical energy (“Veritable Energy Medicine”), and those involving “energies” of unclear nature, as with the Chinese concept of Qi or the Indian concept of prana, which are invoked in the traditional medicine of those countries without being defined in any way that offers ready quantifiability and falsifiability (“Putative Energy Medicine”)
• Types of “Veritable Energy Medicine” include magnet therapy and light therapy, collectively referred to as electromagnetic therapy.
Mainstream medicine involving electromagnetic radiation (radiation therapy) is not accounted “electromagnetic therapy” in the terms of complementary medicine. Cymatic therapy uses sound waves.
• Types of “Energy Medicine Involving Putative Energy Fields” include acupuncture, qi gong, Reiki and related concepts involving the notion of Qi, the similar idea of Prana in Indian Ayurvedic medicine as well as homeopathy, Therapeutic Touch, distant healing (under which NCCAM counts intercessory prayer) and related concepts.
Alternative therapies that use veritable energy, such as electromagnetic therapy, may still make claims that are not supported by evidence.
Many claims have been made on behalf of forms of energy poorly understood at the time and associated with religious ideas of “spirit” which later have been commercially exploited as soon as they became differentiated and associated with scientific technology.
In the 1800s, electricity and magnetism were in the “borderlands” of science and electrical quackery was rife.
In the early 1900s health claims for radio-active materials put lives at risk. In the 2000s, quantum mechanics and grand unification theory provide similar opportunities.
Evaluation Of Claims
There are many explanations for positive outcomes after energy therapy such as the placebo effect or cognitive dissonance, and many possible explanations for positive research findings such as experimenter bias or publication bias, all of which must be considered when evaluating claims.
A 2007 investigation by the Seattle Times found that thousands of devices claiming to utilize energy medicine—many of them illegal or dangerous—were used in hundreds of venues across the United States.
The newspaper described energy medicine as modern-day snake oil, pointing to a lack of regulation and the widespread use of false or unproven marketing claims. Following this investigation, two such devices, the QXCI or EPFX and the PAP-IMI, were banned in January 2008 by authorities in the USA.
Similarly, in February 2009 the EPFX device was banned by Health Canada from sale in Canada.