July 05, 2018

by Blog contributor Annette Sugden

I have a confession to make. I talk to rocks. I swear I’m not crazy. I’ve just always loved things like rocks, feathers, shells and other elements. But especially rocks. One of my favorite things to do when I little was to sift through the rocks and search for the sparkly ones. I thought these rocks, that were really quartz, were magical pieces of treasure left behind by fairies and other spirits.

My love of rocks was further fueled at the time by the 6-month long Pet Rock craze of 1975. This novelty was sold everywhere at the time. Pet Rocks were marketed as the perfect gift for adults and children. The Pet Rock was a rock in a cardboard pet carrier shaped box with breathing holes and a guide to caring for your rock including tricks you could teach it. I drove my parents crazy until they got me one.

As an adult, my love for rocks evolved into a fascination with crystals. I still obsessively collect rocks that speak to me. I even have found some interesting fossils and other images on rocks I’ve collected. But I also supplement my collection with the regular purchase of crystals and books about crystals. My obsession and curiosity has led me to wonder though, what does science say about this? Can crystals really heal? And if so, what?

What are crystals?

What most people mean when we mention the word, “crystals,” is quartz or some other mineral related to quartz. So what is quartz, the type of rock that became my childhood obsession? According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Quartz’s main component is silicon dioxide (SiO2), also known as silica. Quartz can also contain other “impurities,” such as lithium, sodium, potassium, and titanium. The ancient Greeks called clear quartz, krystallos, and that’s where the term “crystals” comes from.

There are many types of quartz including, rose quartz, smoky quartz, citrine, and amethyst. Quartz is also a component of a variety of other rocks including jasper, flint, and agate. In fact, quartz is the second most common mineral on Earth. The first is feldspar. In fact, most crystals you find on the market are going to be a form of quartz or a combination of quartz and feldspar. So, how did something so common become known for having the power to heal?

What health problems do some people claim crystals heal?

When you search online for information about crystals, the first websites that come up are for stores that sell, you guessed it, crystals. When you visit any of these websites, you’ll find a wealth of information about the healing properties of various crystals and gemstones. Usually, the various cures involve using specific crystals to help align your energy, or your energy centers, or your chakras. So, exactly what health problems can balancing or aligning or unblocking your energies with crystals cure?

In my own Google search for the terms “crystals heal,” the top suggestions that popped up to search for were:

  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • A Cold
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches

That’s a lot of health problems that crystals can allegedly cure!


How do some people say crystal healing works?

Besides information on spiritual beliefs and practices related to crystals and other types of healing, you’ll find some interesting and even questionable information on the physical properties of crystals.

Full disclosure here, I’m an eclectic pagan with a strong belief that everything has consciousness or a soul, including rocks. My beliefs are also rooted in the belief that there are different worlds/realms/levels including a spiritual realm. I accept they have no basis in nor relationship to science. However, when we’re talking about objective, scientific facts, and the physical world, I’m strongly grounded in logic and proof. Therefore, when I come across claims that crystals are “growing and have DNA,” or that “our bodies have a similar crystalline matrix to crystals,” and that’s why they’re able to communicate with us, I immediately want to bang my head on my desk.

Crystals don’t have DNA. They’re rocks - minerals, so no DNA.
Humans are carbon-based lifeforms, and we’re mostly water, not a “crystalline matrix.” Crystals or quartz as we’ve already stated are mostly made of silicon dioxide.

I love crystals and use them a lot in my own meditation and rituals, but I’m fairly certain all the information I found from websites that purport to know how and why crystals heal is pseudoscience. Also, I’m pretty sure that the “crystalline matrix” was made up by someone who watches and reads even more science fiction than I do, and I read and watch a lot.


What does science have to say about crystals?

Besides all the alternative healing hoopla over crystals, quartz has some real properties that make it quite useful. In fact, quartz is used in a variety of technological applications from electronics to watches.

So what does science have to say about crystals? That’s what I’m determined to find out in my quest for the truth about crystals and healing. We’ve already covered what quartz crystals are composed of, but here are some additional facts and findings related to them:

Quartz is piezoelectric: Piezoelectricity means pressure electricity. Basically, if you apply pressure to a crystal, it will generate its own electricity. According to this video from TED-Ed, materials that are piezoelectric can convert sound waves, pressure and other types of vibrations into electricity. They can also turn electricity into sound waves, vibrations, and pressure.

Quartz conducts electricity: Crystals were used during World War I to create ultrasound waves that helped detect German submarines. These days quartz is used in a lot of applications to conduct electricity including the famous “Clapper” that can turn your lights on and off. It’s also used in radios, computers and other types of electronics.

Quartz helps keep watches accurate: The piezoelectric capability of crystals allows them to maintain a consistent and precise frequency. This is why quartz is used in timepieces to regulate the movement of your watch or clock and keep them accurate.

Does the body conduct electricity?

Like quartz, the human body is also piezoelectric. For example, our bones are piezoelectric. There are other ways our body conducts electricity. That’s because human cells are electrical conductors. Our nervous systems use electricity to send signals between the brain and the rest of our body so we can move, feel, and think. Electricity helps ensure our hearts can beat and our lungs can breathe.

Does the fact that our bodies are in a sense electric mean that’s why crystals might be able to heal? I’m not sure. It sounds a bit too much like a quantum leap into the "crystalline matrix."
Time Magazine reported on a 2001 study by the University of London Psychologist, Christopher French on the effects of crystals. His study found no difference in the effects people reported experiencing from real quartz over fake quartz. This and a few other studies have led scientists to agree that crystals help people because of something called "the placebo effect."

What is the placebo effect?

According to a May 2017 blog post from Harvard Medical School, Doctors don’t quite understand how placebos work. For decades, saying something was due to the “placebo effect” was considered negative and synonymous with a finding that a treatment was ineffective or didn’t work. These days though, when a study finds that people react to a placebo, it doesn’t mean that something doesn’t work or that the study proves something isn’t true.

What scientists do know according to the same article is that the “placebo effect,” is a combination of neurobiological reactions involving endorphins and dopamine, and the ritualized nature of a particular treatment. Professor Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School says the placebo effect is a way of describing everything that surrounds the treatment, “it’s the interaction between the patient and the provider, the symbols, the rituals, the pills that we take [or treatment given], the amount of support that we get, it’s about everything that is in the environment when we go and see a provider.”

Back to the original question: Can crystals heal?

Wow! So rituals and symbols are part of what makes a placebo work. My spiritual side loves that idea and I guess maybe that’s part of why I love rocks and crystals so much as an adult. Even though I understand the science behind how crystals work and I know that scientific studies about crystal therapies show the reason they make people feel better is due to the “placebo effect,” I still believe in their ability to help relieve my stress.

When asked if placebos can have an effect on certain illnesses, Professor Kaptchuk, says that they can help relieve some complaints like fatigue, pain, anxiety, depression, and stomach upset. However, there’s no evidence that they can shrink a tumor or deal with serious medical conditions. So crystals can’t heal cancer, but they might help ease some of the pain, fatigue, and other side effects of serious and chronic illnesses.

Crystals can have a positive effect on your health.

Most of the websites that I found selling crystals and that claim crystals can heal or cure major illnesses seem to focus on cancer. That made me feel more than a bit uncomfortable. I felt that some of these places are taking advantage of people going through one of the most terrible experiences in their life. That’s a problem.

However, not everyone who sells crystals and discusses crystals in conjunction with healing is making claims related to curing cancer or making up fake science to support those claims. The thing about crystals is, if using crystals makes you feel more relaxed and you experience positive feelings and relief from crystals, then crystals do have health and psychological benefits.


Final Thoughts

I still talk to rocks and trees and animals, including my pets, especially my talkative cat, Hamlet. I feel like crystals speak to me too. I understand that there’s no scientific basis for my interactions with nature, including with quartz. It’s part of my spiritual beliefs and it makes me feel better. If you feel the same, then keep collecting and using crystals.

Just know, if you suffer from a major illness like cancer, it’s not a good idea to substitute crystals for real medical treatment. Use them to possibly help relieve your fatigue and your pain or to help you meditate and support your medical treatments. Use them if they’re part of your spiritual practice. And please don’t get mad at me for not believing in the “crystalline matrix.” Now if you’ll please excuse me, my rose quartz is calling me.

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