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The medical validity of
Narconon's practices

The basis for Narconon's therapeutic practices was devised by L. Ron Hubbard in the early 1970s. Hubbard's ideas have been criticised by non-Scientologists as pseudoscientific and frequently inaccurate, particularly in his assertions that IQ can be raised through such treatment and that drug residues are stored in fatty tissues. Particularly noteworthy are the claims in Hubbard's book Clear Body, Clear Mind that radiation - not just radioactive particles, but actual electromagnetic radiation - is somehow stored in the body and can be sweated out, through the process known in Scientology as the "Purification Rundown" and in Narconon as the "New Life Detoxification Program." (See the essay "Hysterical Radiation and Bogus Science" for more on Hubbard's peculiar views on the medical and physical properties of radiation.)

Medical literature for and against Narconon is very scarce. The United States National Institute on Drug Abuse, based in Maryland, does not know of a single peer reviewed piece scientific literature to support the program. The only generally-known report to substantially address the medical validity of Narconon's theories appears to be that produced by the Board of Mental Health, State of Oklahoma in December 1991. Its findings do not express much support for Narconon:

"The Narconon drug treatment modality treats all drug addictions the same. No scientific evidence was produced to show that all drug addictions are properly treated in the same manner ...

The Narconon [detoxification] program requires its patients to sweat up to five hours per day, seven days a week, for approximately thirty days. The rationale, according to Narconon for the sweat-out is to rid the body of fat-stored drugs and chemicals through sweat. However, there is no scientific basis for the technique. Most drugs of abuse are removed from the body by detoxification and excretion through the liver, kidneys and (in some instances) through the lungs. Although minute quantities of some drugs may be found in sweat, the amount represents such a small fraction of drug elimination that no matter how much an individual sweated through exercise or saunas, the clearance of most drugs of abuse would not be significantly increased ...

The vast majority of time spent in the Narconon treatment plan and course work does not in any way relate to or involve education about drug and alcohol abuse treatment, issues, and/or addiction. The Narconon treatment plan thus has deficiencies which render it ineffective. The Narconon treatment plan is general in nature, applies categorically to all students and is not individualized. The treatment plan also lacks measurable individualized objectives which the students should seek to achieve in the program. For instance, the treatment plan sets a patient's objective as follows: To have a clear mind. This objective is essentially meaningless. In order for a bonafide drug treatment plan to be effective it is essential to have individualized measured objectives which Narconon's treatment plan lacks ...

There is no credible scientific evidence that the Narconon program is effective in the treatment of chemical dependency.

There is no credible scientific evidence that exercise speeds up the detoxification process.

Large doses of niacin are administered to patients during the Narconon program to rid the body of radiation. There is no credible scientific evidence that niacin in any way gets radiation out of the patient's body. Rather, the more credible medical evidence supports the existence of potential medical risks to persons receiving high doses of niacin.

There is no credible evidence establishing the safety of the Narconon program to its patients.

There is no credible evidence establishing the effectiveness of the Narconon program to its patients.

No scientifically well-controlled independent, long-term outcome studies were found that directly and clearly establish the effectiveness of the Narconon program for the treatment of chemical dependency and the more credible evidence establishes Narconon's program is not effective. The Board determines that the Narconon Program is not effective in the treatment of chemical dependency."

(Findings of Fact regarding the Narconon-Chilocco Application For Certification by the Board of Mental Health, State of Oklahoma, 13 December 1991)

When the huge Narconon facility in Chilocco, Oklahoma, was established in 1989, the owner and editor of The Newkirk Herald Journal, Bob Lobsinger, wrote to a number of independent experts about the medical theories expounded in the Purification Rundown / New Life Detoxification Program. They were unanimous in describing Hubbard's ideas as, in the words of one, "pure unadulterated cow pies". Some extracts:

"The material is full of generalizations that have no substantiation in fact. There are internal inconsistent statements. There is no documentation. The Purification Rundown is somewhat patterned after many reputable detoxification programs in which diet, exercise, education and behavioral modification are used. But due to the above mentioned deficiencies as well as several outright untruths, I think that it is fair to say that the Purification Rundown is without merit."

(C. Mark Palmer, M.D., Ponca City, Oklahoma - letter to R.W. Lobsinger, 14 August 1989)

"My overall comment on Mr. Hubbard's literature is that there is an absolute lack of data to support his assertion that the Purification Rundown succeeds in doing what the presently adopted programs fail to do. The documents reviewed also contain many truths and half-truths ... Overall the program proposed by Mr. Hubbard is pure unadulterated "cow pies". It is filled with some scientific truth but mainly is illogical and the conclusions drawn by Mr. Hubbard are without any basis in scientific fact."

(Bruce A. Roe, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Oklahoma - letter to R.W. Lobsinger, 4 August 1989)

"Basically Hubbard's theories in general are just that - theories without controlled proof. He flings facts around wildly in excess, i.e., to drown the reader in facts in order to convince them that he knows, but he has little to reference and document the facts. A review of Hubbard's communications is that these directives are only theoretical observations without substantiating facts or details and with no reference for the reader to "check the source out." "

(William B. Svoboda, pediatric neurologist, Wichita, Kansas - letter to R.W. Lobsinger, 30 April 1990)

"To subject people to potentially serious side effects on the pretense that they are being "detoxified", "cleared" or "purified" is quackery."

(James J. Kenney, Ph.D., R.D., National Council Against Health Fraud, Santa Monica, CA - letter to Dr. John Chelf, copied to R.W. Lobsinger, 5 January 1991)

The Mayor of Newkirk, Garry Bilger, also wrote to the United States Department of Health and Human Services to enquire about the Narconon drug treatment programme. The Assistant Surgeon General, Everett R. Rhoades, M.D., replied that

"in general because of a lack of empirical data, the "Purification Rundown" concept cannot be considered medically sound."

(Everett R. Rhoades, M.D., Assistant Surgeon General - letter to Garry Bilger, Mayor of Newkirk, Oklahoma, 22 December 1989)


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Last updated 31 August 1998
by Chris Owen (