Making a definition on complementary and alternative medicine is very hard to do because there are a lot of different sources containing all kinds of different treatments and practices. Complementary and alternative medicine, also known as CAM is a variety of medical practices which in current time are not considered to be a part of the generally accepted medical treatments.
Even though medical institutions are beginning to fund practices and research, CAM still is the maverick among medicine.
In order to get licensed and practice conventional medicine, a certain level of education has to be reached and proven. Think of college degrees or diploma's for CNA nursing. Next to the education, some practical experience gained during internships is also required, all to make sure there are experienced professionals taking care of patients.
In order to practice CAM there are some regulations, but they do not come close to the ones conventional medical aides are obligated to follow. This is changing throughout the world to different degrees. The requirements for CAM practitioners are about as variable as the amount of treatments available.
There are schools where a CAM practitioner can get educated and become a naturopathic practitioner and get licensed, but that's not available everywhere. In order to know if you are dealing with someone who knows what he is doing, even without a license, you might want to check out if there is a membership of some kind of organization which has some requirements in order to become a member.
When we are looking at scientific evidence to support CAM treatments it is very much depending on the field of healthcare. There is a lot of evidence which supports CAM treatments in order to fight cancer, but on the other hand the evidence of CAM treatments helping people who suffer from asthma is not overwhelming. Luckily there are organizations who are very interested in the funding of scientific studies to sort out in what way CAM treatments can be effective and they study any safety risks.
That leaves us with the difference between complementary and alternative medicine. This is a very thin line. Even though the treatments connect with each other on different levels, still the claim is being made that there is a difference. The only difference is that complementary medicine is being practised side by side with conventional medicine.
An example is that when a patient is going through chemotherapy to fight cancer, it is a good idea to use acupuncture in order to fight the nausea which comes with the chemotherapy. Alternative medicine on the other hand is being practised instead of conventional medicine. An example here is that light therapy can be provided to people suffering from depression instead of taking anti depression medicine.