In our blog we have reviewed a number of pseudo-scientific ‘New Age’ techniques, including astrology, homeopathy, wellness fads, and our latest and perhaps most extreme New Age topic, Flat-Earth ‘theory.’ Crystal healing is yet another trendy New Age topic. We will review the (lack of) scientific evidence for the power of crystals. Next we will briefly review the use of crystals in electronic devices. Then we will discuss the placebo effect.
One reason that crystals are highly valued is their beauty. Fig. 1 shows a group of quartz crystals. Because the molecular structure of crystals varies widely, the properties of reflecting or refracting light will differ from one substance to another. This gives the crystals their color and luster. The brightness and sparkle of a crystal is also dependent on the way it is cut. A number of crystalline substances are used in jewelry; thus, like diamonds or other precious stones, they are highly valued.
The crystals are mined, and generally the buyer has no idea exactly where the crystals originated, and under what conditions. Crystals are often extracted in Third-World countries, where environmental and labor conditions can be notoriously lax. So the crystals you purchase to unblock your chakras may well have been mined in countries such as Mozambique or the Congo, and might have been carried out by child laborers.
The most famous crystals of recent times were the jade crystal eggs sold by Goop, and promoted as increasing sexual potency if they were inserted into the vagina. We covered this fad in our posts on Wellness Fads. What we did not know at that time was that those jade eggs were mined in Myanmar. According to Dan Levin in the New York Times, the jade mining industry in Myanmar “helped finance a bloody ethnic conflict and unleashed an epidemic of heroin use and H.I.V. infection among the Kachin minority who work the mines.” In an ironic reversal of the “opium wars” story, the Kachin jade-mining industry is financed by the Chinese, whose middle class citizens purchase enormous quantities of the mineral. But the Chinese are also believed to supply the heroin that is taken by many Kachin miners to relieve the pain from their laborious mining efforts. Very few merchants who sell ‘healing crystals’ will reveal the sources of their crystals, or vouch for the conditions under which the crystals are mined.
To be sure, the environmental damage done by crystal mining pales in comparison to operations such as mountaintop removal to mine coal, or vast open-pit copper mines, or even the large-scale mining efforts that produce the rare earth materials used in electronic devices such as smartphones. However, it is ironic that vendors who claim that their crystals possess miraculous healing properties would turn a blind eye to the possibility that those crystals were unearthed by exploited workers in environmentally blighted mines.
Pseudo-scientific Claims Regarding the Properties of Crystals:
However, we will focus not on the sheer beauty of crystals, but on claims made by New Age advocates regarding the healing power of crystals. There is a long history of crystals being used for medical purposes in ancient cultures. For example, the Hopi Indians used crystals to diagnose illnesses. Pliny the Elder and Galen, two of the most notable early Roman natural philosophers, both claimed that some crystals produced beneficial medical effects. In the Middle Ages, certain stones were believed to have medicinal properties. These were collected in texts known as Lapidaries. Those texts were used in medical practice until they lost favor, when we developed the germ theory of disease. Unfortunately, this lore does not qualify as the “wisdom of the ancients;” instead, it is just another example where medieval societies made incorrect assumptions about the nature of cause and effect.
Let’s review some of the claims made for the medicinal powers of crystals. One of the most fruitful areas of ‘information’ on New Age ‘medicine’ is Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Website. Ms. Paltrow created this company in order to pass along suggestions for products, and as part of this effort she has assembled a group of contributors who push New Age ‘remedies’ for a wide variety of wellness issues. Launched as a ‘lifestyle brand’ in 2008, Goop has since become an online powerhouse. It is currently worth more than $250 million. We reviewed Goop and some of its pseudo-scientific advice in our post on wellness fads.
At that time, we were particularly concerned that Goop was making rash and potentially dangerous claims about the medical benefits of their products. This has changed since Sept. 2018, when Goop agreed to pay $145,000 to the state of California over unsubstantiated claims made regarding the medical benefits of jade crystal eggs that they recommended for vaginal health. Since that time, Goop has added disclaimers to its Website; however, the disclaimers are both feeble and snarky. For example, because of its use in primitive cultures, crystal healing is labeled by Goop an ‘ancient modality.’ On their Website, Goop defines Ancient Modality: “This practice is nearly as old as time — many find value in it, even if modern-day research hasn’t caught up yet (it’s possible the practice will never attract its attention).”
So we went to the Goop site and typed in “crystal healing.” First, we came across a ‘crystal-infused water bottle’ for $84. It was claimed to “infuse water with positive energy.” Next, we were led to the Web site of Colleen McCann, who is described as a “certified shamanic energy medicine practitioner.” Ms. McCann makes the following claims for crystals. First, “crystals retain all the information they have ever been exposed to. Crystals absorb information—whether a severe weather pattern, or the experience of an ancient ceremony—and pass it to anyone that comes into contact with them.”
“Our ancestors intuitively knew that when worn, the energies of the stones would interact with the human electromagnetic field to bring about energetic changes. People gravitate towards vortexes (where energy is either entering into the earth or projecting out of the earth’s plane) like Stonehenge and Sedona because these ancient and massive magical rocks sit on top of energetic ley lines—making them, in effect, an energy portal or place of power.” Furthermore, McCann claims that crystals must be regularly cleaned, in order to remove ‘old’ energy that might be stored in the crystal [so much for the notion that crystals retain all the information that has ever passed through them]. “If you wear a crystal or meditate with a crystal daily, it should be cleaned once a week … Cleaning is necessary because it removes any dense or stale energy the crystal may have picked up in its environment , or from you … A crystal becomes personally attuned to you and nobody else should put their vibration or energy on it.”
And how exactly do you clean a crystal? Well, there are several different ways. First, you could “bury them in dirt for a week. Returning your crystals and stones to the earth allows them to cleanse and recharge with the vibration of the earth.” Alternatively, you could “leave the crystals out in the moonlight for three days prior and three days after the full moon (or for at least 24 hours). Lunar energy helps cleanse and charge the stones, and the moon’s light is brightest and energetically strongest during the full moon.”
A New Age claim is that crystals will provide the most powerful effects if they are placed upon chakras in the body (these are alleged to be the locations of ‘subtle energy vortexes’), and that the crystals in some way are supposed to “affect our electro-magnetic energy fields or subtle bodies which surround and permeate the physical body. These include the etheric, emotional and mental bodies, which are collectively called the aura.”
“Crystals absorb, focus, direct and diffuse our energy fields to enable a diseased or out of balance body to find it’s [sic] natural energetic rhythm once again. The appropriate crystals can be placed on the seven main chakras, which look like different coloured spinning wheels of subtle energy, running up the centre of the torso. These link the subtle energy fields of our aura with our emotions, glands, organs, physical body parts and subtle and physical circulatory flows.” Yes, we get it – these effects are ‘subtle.’
It is claimed that particular types of minerals will have beneficial effects if they are placed at certain chakras. The specific type of crystal and the produced effect are listed in Crystal Healing Websites. For example, Colleen McCann claims that citrine crystals “catapult a woman into embracing a leadership role, making things happen in business. It is associated with creativity and wealth. Citrine can assist with standing firmly within your personal power, self-confidence, and establishing healthy boundaries in every area of your life.” Note that, although the energy fields are supposed to be extremely subtle, they are capable of ‘catapulting’ a woman into leadership. Ms. McCann suggests that one can create an “Abundance Altar” by placing a citrine crystal atop a stack of $1 bills (but they need to be “clean and crisp” bills, so that one has incoming “fresh energy”). As part of this ritual, one could hold the citrine and cash in one’s hand as one visualizes success in business.
Cathie Welchman outlines ways that one can create an “energy grid” using crystals. Here is the guiding principle: “crystals with the points facing away from the problem area move the energy away from that area, and crystals placed with the points facing inwards recharge the body with subtle energies.” Thus, it is argued that an arrangement of amethyst crystals can relieve a headache or migraine, which results from “an over-energy situation or energy blockage.” Welchman recommends placing “a clear quartz point on top of computers and televisions, because they create electro-magnetic fields that adversely affect our energies. The crystals need cleansing regularly in clean water to prevent a build-up of electro-magnetic energy from the source. Quartz crystals can also be placed in windows or on windowsills to absorb or deflect adverse external energies, such as those emanating from electricity sub stations or pylon lines. The crystal points need to face towards the source of the adverse energy.”
Heather Askinosie advises on how to construct a crystal grid. One first chooses a goal: bring more abundance into your life? Maintain health & fitness? Boost creativity? Sleep through the night? Next, write your intention on a piece of paper, and place the paper in the center of a crystal grid cloth. Choose crystals that “are aligned with your intention and enhance it.” Thus, for abundance one would choose green or gold ‘wealth crystals’ such as adventurine, citrine or pyrite; for health & wellness one would pick blue and purple ‘healing stones’ such as fluorite, sodalite or angelite. Arrange the crystals in a grid, working from the center outward, while keeping your intention firmly in mind. Place a pointed quartz crystal in the center of your grid, atop the piece of paper, pointing upward (that will “direct your intention straight upward into the universe”).
You ‘activate’ the crystal grid by taking a crystal point and touching it to each stone in your grid. For example, Fig. 7 shows a “crystal grid rainbow,” and Fig. 8 a “health & wellness crystal grid.” Note that the health and wellness grid of Fig. 8 requires assembling 31 crystals. You may or may not see results from your crystal grid, but Ms. Askinosie’s “abundance” will certainly increase as a result of your purchasing 31 stones!
Ms. Askinosie will also be happy to sell you a chunk of Shungite, to place on or next to your cell phone. She claims that “Scientific research and experiments have shown that placing Shungite close to your cell phone, laptops, computers and other electronic sources, significantly weakens the impact of electromagnetic radiation on the body. It absorbs and neutralizes the harmful effects of EMFs [electromagnetic fields], which affect energetic balance and your health. Place a Shungite for Cell Phone on the back of your cell phone or case (it already has adhesive on it), to protect your energy against EMFs.”
[Note: since we have been critical of Heather Askinosie, in fairness we should mention that she is one of the few entrepreneurs selling ‘healing crystals’ who provide information about the sources of their minerals. She also has a statement on her website urging customers to inquire about the sources of their ‘healing crystals.’]
Science and Crystal Healing:
Let’s attempt to assess some of the claims made for crystal healing, using our knowledge of mainstream science. First, take the following claim: “Crystals retain all the information they have ever been exposed to. Crystals absorb information … and pass it to anyone that comes into contact with them.” This statement is completely false. A crystal will transmit electromagnetic (EM) waves of certain wavelengths and absorb or reflect waves at other wavelengths. An electromagnetic wave passing through a crystal can be reflected, refracted or absorbed as it goes through the crystal. In the visible region of the EM spectrum, the property of the light passing through the crystal (the color and luster) will depend on the properties of molecules in the crystal and how the crystal is cut. Energy absorbed from an EM wave that passes through may temporarily excite one or more atoms in the crystal, but such atoms effectively randomize that energy when they de-excite very shortly thereafter, emitting their own radiation in random directions. The atoms and molecules in a crystal typically undergo small vibrations about their locations within the crystal lattice, but in a random way that reflects the crystal’s temperature, not its history of exposure.The idea that a crystal has “retained all the information it has been exposed to” is contrary to everything we know about physics and optics.
Furthermore, the idea that “crystals need cleansing regularly in clean water to prevent a build-up of electro-magnetic energy from the source” is bogus. The crystals used for crystal healing do not accumulate electromagnetic energy that passes through them, the energy does not build up in the crystal, and thus immersion in water does not remove energy stored in a crystal.
Part of the confusion here may be that the term “energy” when used in New Age lore is definitely not the ‘energy’ that is used in the physical sciences. In science, energy is a directly measurable quantity, and we can both predict and measure the existence and propagation of energy. The nebulous types of ‘energy’ used in New Age pseudo-science have never been measured. The Wikipedia entry on Crystal Healing has a nice summary of the scientific standing of this field: “There is no scientific basis for the concepts of chakras being “blocked”, energy grids requiring grounding, or other such terms; they are widely understood to be nothing more than terms used by adherents to lend credibility to their practices. Energy, as a scientific term, is a very well-defined concept that is readily measurable and bears little resemblance to the esoteric concept of energy used by proponents of crystal healing.”
The Use of Crystals in Electronic Devices:
In the section above we listed several claims that certain types of crystals would protect an individual from ‘harmful electromagnetic [EM] rays’ from electronic devices such as computers, televisions or cell phones. Indeed, all such electronic devices operate through the manipulation of EM fields. At present, we know of no long-term adverse health effects on humans from any of these devices. However, that does not guarantee that we will not discover in the future some subtle negative effects associated with certain types of EM radiation.
Some of these claims about crystals and EM fields arise because crystals are widely used in electronic devices; thus, it is argued that if you wear a pendant containing a quartz (or other substance) crystal, it will confer health benefits. Let’s review very briefly the role of a crystal in an old-fashioned crystal radio. We will particularly focus on a crystal radio that works on the amplitude modified (AM) radio band. For an AM radio, the signal is superimposed on an EM wave that vibrates with a constant frequency. This is shown in Fig. 10.A. The voltage vs. time curve has a fixed radio frequency (or RF; this is called the carrier wave); however, the amplitude (or maximum magnitude) of the signal varies with time.
This EM wave is passed through a crystal that is coupled to a conductor; in early radio sets a crystal was connected to a fine wire. When EM waves of certain frequencies are sent through the crystal-conductor junction, the alternating carrier wave voltage is converted into a voltage only in one direction (as shown in Fig. 10.B). So the crystal and wire make up a primitive form of a diode, a circuit element that converts alternating current input to a direct current output. Then another component of the radio (called a bypass capacitor) removes the RF oscillations from the signal, leaving only the variation in pulse height, as shown in Fig. 10.C. The fluctuations in pulse height denote the signal that is converted into sound in the earphones.
We can guarantee that if one places crystals on an ‘energy grid,’ or on one’s person in the form of amulets, they will confer no health benefits whatsoever. In these New Age devices, the crystal is not part of a complex circuit, and therefore the crystals will simply reflect or refract the incident waves and will confer no medicinal benefits. This statement holds regardless of the type of crystal one uses, or its orientation. There is one exception to this statement (that crystals produce no medical benefits), and that is the Placebo Effect, which we will discuss in detail later.
A Scientific Test of Crystal Healing:
Chris French is a professor of psychology and is founder and head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths College, University of London. French has taken seriously the claims made by advocates of crystal healing. In 2001, French and his colleagues carried out a controlled experiment on the powers of crystals with 80 volunteers.
The volunteers were each given a booklet that described the potential physical effects that might be produced by crystals: these included “tingling, more focused attention, balanced emotions, a rise in hand temperature, increased energy levels, improved sense of wellbeing, relaxation of the forehead, stimulation of the brain, increased swallowing reflex and ’activation of all levels of consciousness’”. Next, each participant was given a stone and told that it was a crystal. They were then asked to hold them, meditate for ten minutes, and describe their feelings.
Many of the participants in this study reported experiencing the sensations described in the booklet. And people who reported believing in the power of crystals were twice as likely to report sensations than those who identified as skeptics. As it turned out, half of the participants had been given genuine crystals and the other half were given cheap pieces of plastic. There was no difference in the responses from the people in this study, those who were given crystals and those without crystals. This experiment indicates that it is not the power of crystals, but rather the power of belief, that leads to the claimed effects. This experiment, and every legitimate controlled scientific experiment that we have found, showed no difference between crystals and plastic. To the best of our knowledge, crystals produce no benefits apart from the Placebo Effect.
By the way, Prof. French appears to be an admirable skeptic. French takes seriously the claims of those who make claims of paranormal forces and activities, and he designs scientific experiments to test those claims. He explains his interest in these phenomena. Polls show that “the majority of population, in one way or another, do express belief in the paranormal. Most people, in any survey, will endorse at least one paranormal claim. Now, either that means that paranormal forces really do exist, or it’s telling us something really interesting about human psychology. So, either way, we should definitely take these types of claims seriously and try to understand what is going on.”
French regularly appears on shows that promote paranormal phenomena; on these shows, he represents the skeptical-scientific point of view. So far, French has appeared as a ‘scientific skeptic’ on shows dealing with issues such as psychic abilities, recovered memory, telepathy, faith healing, past life regression, ghosts, UFO abductions, out-of-body experiences, and astrology.
The Placebo Effect:
A placebo is a substance that is designed to have no therapeutic value. Common placebos are sugar pills, or injected substances such as saline solutions. There is evidence that, for certain medical conditions, a fraction of people experience positive medical benefits, even when they are administered placebos.
Thus, in clinical trials of new drugs, a fraction of the patients are given pills or injections containing the active ingredient, while another fraction are administered placebos; there may be a control group that receives neither the meds nor the placebo. Researchers then compare the percentage of people who see improvement with the medication against the percentage who experience improvement with the placebo. In such trials, the difference between the improvement with no treatment and the improvement with the placebo is called the Placebo Effect.
There is an effect that must be measured and separated from the Placebo Effect, and that is called “regression to the mean.” There are conditions where patients often improve even with no treatment at all. If pain is due to a wound, for example, then the pain generally subsides over time. Depression is another condition where a fraction of patients will improve without either medical treatment or a placebo. In fact, one of the tricky aspects in measuring the Placebo Effect is to separate its effects from those involving regression to the mean.
In the case of a disease (e.g., measles or cancer), placebos do not seem to affect patient outcomes. For example, if you need chemotherapy to treat cancer, placebos will not help your body produce its own cancer-killing chemicals. One exception to this rule is Parkinson’s Disease, where placebos have been linked to improvements in a patient’s motor functions. However, placebos may help to alleviate pain that is a by-product of a disease.
In general, the Placebo Effect appears to be most powerful where a condition is dependent on the subject’s perception. For example, placebos appear to have significant effects in patient responses to pain. Placebos “seem to be capable of altering a person’s perception of pain.” And placebos may also operate in other ways. Recent experiments have found that placebos can actually stimulate the brain to release opioids and other endorphins. This is particularly true if medication is used to release endorphins, and is then replaced by a placebo, as shown in Fig. 12. It has been discovered that a region of the brain associated with pain management (the periaqueductal gray matter) shows increased activity with placebos, while regions of the spine that respond to pain show decreased activity.
Another area where placebos can be effective is in treating depression. However, in treatment of depression, placebos have a larger effect in the short term, as opposed to the long term, when compared with pharmaceutical drugs. Also, there are conflicting results regarding placebos and depression, with some studies showing larger effects from placebos than others.
Other areas where placebos seem to be effective are cases that involve asthma, nausea and phobias. There are also situations where placebos are either less effective or their effectiveness is controversial; such areas include smoking, dementia, obesity, hypertension, insomnia, and anxiety.
Apparently, when patients believe that a treatment will provide benefits, some fraction of them will experience benefits. Patients “who believe that a treatment will work display a stronger placebo effect than patients who do not believe.” It also appears to be the case that patients respond better when their care-giver shows warmth and empathy. For example, patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome were divided into three groups. The first two were given sham acupuncture treatments that they were told might ease their conditions. In the first group the practitioner talked with the patients and sympathized with their conditions. In the second group, the practitioner did not speak to the patients. The third control group received no treatment. The first group reported that both the frequency and severity of their symptoms had decreased, and they saw greater improvement in their quality of life.
There are some interesting results of experiments with placebos. In one study by Dr. Luana Colloca of the University of Maryland, patients with Parkinson’s disease were given medication for a period of time. Then, unknown to the patient, the drugs were replaced by placebos. At least for a short time, the response in the brain to placebos was identical to that induced by the drugs (note: this works only in cases where the brain already has the ability to release the necessary chemicals).
Clinical results from placebos can be unreliable and may only work for a limited period of time. However, the results can sometimes be powerful. I recently saw an advertisement for a new drug to decrease the frequency of chronic migraines. The ad for that drug stated that 60% of patients in clinical trials who took this drug saw the number of migraines per month decreased by half or more, compared with 39% of migraine patients on placebos (!) In conclusion, it is true that the Placebo Effect is ‘all in your mind.’ At the same time, although it happens infrequently and unpredictably, the Placebo Effect is very real and has been verified in numerous studies.
As you can see, the Placebo Effect would certainly be possible with ‘healing crystals.’ People who use crystals with the belief that they will work could report feeling better, a decrease in frequency or intensity of migraine headaches, relief from depression, or increased confidence. And all of these outcomes could improve the quality of life for the users. So that is the good news – using crystals under the impression that they will work might provide some ‘success,’ because of the Placebo Effect.
However, note that the Placebo Effect has absolutely nothing to do with the crystals. It has nothing to do with the properties of crystals when interacting with electromagnetic fields, or chakras, or auras, or any other New Age claims. It simply arises from the belief by the user that they will receive benefits by using crystals. So you could save yourself a lot of money and time, and bypass the crystals altogether.
In summary, there is no reliable and repeatable evidence that crystals produce any health benefits, over and above the Placebo Effect. A chunk of crystal will not heal your body, nor will it bring you wealth. Crystals will not provide relief from migraines, cure the flu, or unclog your chakras. They will certainly not protect you against electromagnetic rays from your computer, TV or cell phone. A variety of crystals arranged in an ‘energy grid’ will also confer no medical benefits.
On the other hand, the use of crystals is unlikely to harm you. An exception to this statement is if you decide to use crystals instead of sound medical advice to treat a real disease or a serious medical condition. As we have mentioned, it is possible that the use of crystals might provide you with some relief through the Placebo Effect.
So, if crystals will probably not harm you and could provide positive benefits (through the Placebo Effect), then why are we spending time criticizing this practice? We will focus on two reasons. First, if benefits from ‘crystal healing’ come through the Placebo Effect, then the results have nothing to do with the crystals themselves. The benefits arise because the individual believes that the crystals will help them. This means that all of the New Age arguments for the ‘healing powers’ of crystals are nonsense. In particular, different crystals do not have different medicinal purposes. Scientific experiments have shown that you could get the same effect from a hunk of plastic as from a crystal. Or you could pick up a rock off the ground, call it your ‘lucky charm,’ and convince yourself that it will improve your situation.
If the only beneficial properties of crystals arise through the Placebo Effect, then none of the mumbo-jumbo about “energy grids,” “blocked chakras,” information “stored” in a crystal, or about how crystals are energized by the Moon, has any truth to it. One could save a great deal of money by using a very inexpensive object; if one believed in its efficacy, it would be as potent as the most elaborate and expensive “crystal energy grid.”
A second reason why we are offended by the New Age claims about healing crystals is that they appropriate the language of science in a way that is not only unscientific, but it is profoundly anti-scientific. Instead of relying on evidence-based research and proper scientific methods, advocates of crystal healing use the word “energy” in a sense that is utterly different from the scientific meaning of that term. They claim that crystals ‘correct’ this energy flow: they unblock clogged chakras, or facilitate the ‘flow’ through ‘energy grids.’ None of these concepts is backed up by scientifically-validated experiments, and no evidence-based experiments show any results of ‘healing crystals’ beyond the Placebo Effect.
Finally, the ‘scientific’ arguments advanced on behalf of healing crystals are nothing more than an appropriation of ancient confusion about cause and effect, coupled with New Age hucksterism in touting dubious products. The proliferation of these pseudo-scientific beliefs makes people wary of genuine scientific claims, and proponents of crystal healing misuse our knowledge of, for example, electromagnetic waves and the optical properties of crystals.
Wikipedia, Crystal Healing
Do You Know Where Your Healing Crystals Come From? Emily Atkin, The New Republic, May 11, 2018
Searching for Burmese Jade, and Finding Misery, Dan Levin, New York Times Dec. 2, 2014
Main website, Goop
Debunking Denial, Wellness Fads, Part II: Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop
Goop Wellness: 8 Crystals for Better Energy
Debunking Denial, Astrology:
Debunking Denial, Homeopathy:
Debunking Denial, Wellness Fads:
Debunking Denial, Flat-Earth Theory:
Holisticshop.co.uk: An Introduction to Crystal Therapy:
Energymuse: How to make your own crystal grid, Heather Askinosie:
Energymuse: Shungite for your cellphone:
Wikipedia, Crystal Radio
Wikipedia, Chris French
New Age Crystal Power is All in the Mind, David Derbyshire and Celia Hall, The Telegraph, March 29, 2001
Vox, The Weird Power of the Placebo Effect Explained, Brian Resnick, July 7, 2017:
A Systematic Review of Comparative Effects of Treatments and Controls for Depression, A. Khan et al., PLOS|One July 30, 2012
Placebo Interventions for all Clinical Conditions, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Jan 20, 2010
Placebo Effects on Human µ-Opioid Activity During Pain, Tor D. Wager et al., PNAS 104, 11056 (2007).
Dr. Luana Colloca, University of Maryland School of Nursing