“Placebo effect” is often dismissed as just a fake pill, yet most fancy expensive drug trials often struggle to show that medicines are better than placebo – even when half the unfavourable data is kept out of sight.
In North America placebo medicine is typically considered by medical professions as “cheating” and “dishonest” [really, you mean just like selectively publishing trial data and telling people they have a “chemical imbalance” ? ] but in other countries doctors can, and do routinely, prescribe placebos .
Perhaps the placebo effect is nothing more than another way of poking into action the mind/body’s own very powerful ability to heal itself. Placebo effect is mysterious but it is very , very real. Here’s a perspective on placebos that may be new to you, from theProfessorFunk.
Now you’ve all heard of the placebo effect before, when something with no known therapeutic value can actually make people feel better. It’s a great trick our minds play on us, that by believing and expecting something to work, it actually does. But what’s weird is that the strength of the effect can differ for some really strange reasons. For example, the same placebo can treat pain half as well as aspirin, while at the same time treating pain half as well as morphine. Morphine’s a much more powerful pain killer, but a placebo is half as effective as both?
Saying a placebo will reduce pain, reduces pain. But saying that the same placebo will increase pain, increases pain. Believing that a placebo will make you feel better, will make you feel better. Believing that it won’t has the opposite effect.
Now, placebos aren’t just pills. They can be creams, injections, surgeries, or drinks. You can even get placebo buttons. They don’t actually do anything, but they sure as hell make you feel like you’re in control. But not all placebos are equal. The effect of the placebo is bigger when the pill itself is bigger, or if you have two instead of one, or two once a day instead of one twice a day. And a capsule will usually beat a pill, and a syringe will usually beat a capsule. And anything with a big ass science machine can outperform any of them.
A plain pill works worse than a branded one. A discounted pill works worse than a pricey one, and even a pill in a plain box does worse than one that’s all shiny and shit. Placebos that are blue work best as downers, and placebos that are red are better as uppers.
Studies have shown that people who take their meds on a regular basis are less likely to die than those that don’t, even if those meds are all placebos. You can even get addicted to placebos. In one study, a group of women took placebos for more than five years. Forty percent of them suffered withdrawals afterwards. In fact, the effect of placebos can be so strong that some people want them banned from sports. But, I mean, how would you even test for that?
Placebos don’t even seem to work from place to place. For example, in Germany, using a placebo to treat ulcers works better than anywhere else in Europe. But using a placebo that treats hypertension doesn’t work nearly as well as it does for its neighbors.
Now, remember that all of this is about comparing things that both have nothing medically effective in them, which goes to show that a placebo isn’t about what’s in it but about the beliefs that we load onto it. Our minds create the medicine, and that is pretty freaking weird.