Doterra is a successful multinational company which sells innovative medical treatments - or at least that's what they'd have you believe. In reality, it appears to be a Multi Level Marketing scheme, based on Essential Oils, which preys on vulnerable people and makes dangerous untrue claims about their products.

As a primer:

A Multi Level Marketing scheme is similar to a Pyramid Scheme, where each member of the scheme can recruit people under them. You can sign up several people to the scheme, which means that the scheme resembles a pyramid, with more people at the bottom than the top. The difference between an MLM and a Pyramid Scheme is that with an MLM there's a product that's being sold. Part of the profits from sales go to the person who made the sale and part to the company making the product, but a third part is shared between the people above the seller in the pyramid. Therefore it's beneficial for members of the scheme to sign up people below them, as they can then take a share of the profits from sales they haven't had to make themselves. Usually the products in an MLM scheme are overpriced and don't deliver on the promises made of them, and the vast majority of people taking part in MLM schemes never make back their own money that they invest in joining the scheme.

Essential Oils are used in Aromatherapy, and are oils taken from plants and flowers. These oils are often distilled or pressed from the plant, and have a smell similar to the plant/flower. There's no good quality evidence that essential oils are able to treat any serious medical condition, and a paucity of evidence for pretty much any claims. As is often the case with alternative medicines, essential oils were discovered by someone who had a single subjective experience - in this case, a French chemist burnt his hand and treated it with lavender oil. Instead of then running a battery of blinded tests to validate this experience, the alternative medicine of Aromatherapy was then "invented".

There was an article in Stuff this week warning of the recent rapid expansion of Doterra in New Zealand. Local agents of this MLM are starting to make fantastical claims about their products' ability to treat serious diseases such as cancer.

One agent, Rose Scott, has been saying that she's "not allowed to say" that Copaiba oil can cure cancer, which is as good as saying that it does. She also says that despite not being able to say it's not a potential cancer cure, "it absolutely is".

There are Medsafe rules about trying to use this kind of rhetoric to make therapeutic claims without outright saying the claim:

Typical indicators that a product has a therapeutic purpose include:

"Statements to the effect that the law prevents the supplier from making therapeutic claims that they consider they should be able to make about the product."

I found other Kiwis making claims online:

"Our medicine cabinet now consists of essential oils and plasters, thats about it. There is an oil that can be used to help most health conditions, from a common cut through to cancer."

Atawhai Farm

"dōTERRA's AromaTouch is proven to be especially beneficial for those with chronic issues such as Diabetes, Cancer, Arthritis..."

Fine Studio

Dr Chris Jackson from the Cancer Society said:

"Anybody recommending them as a treatment or cure (for cancer) should be referred to the Health and Disability Commissioner for investigation."

I will contact the HDC next week to let them know of the claims being made by doTERRA representatives in New Zealand - hopefully they will be able to clamp down on these kinds of claims.

Weirdly, this is yet another Multi Level Marketing scheme based in Utah. I've previous looked into Asea and USANA, both health based MLMs which are Utah based. Utah is the home state of the Mormon church, and I know of other Mormon owned MLMs that aren't Utah based, such as Hardy's/TrueHope. I started to wonder if there was a connection here, and found a nice article detailing why Mormons may be more accepting of MLM schemes.