The placebo effect

A placebo, most often used in drug studies, is used in clinical trials to test the effectiveness of treatments. For instance, people in one group get the drug being tested, while the control group receive a fake drug, or placebo, that they think is the real thing. This way, the researchers can measure if the drug truly works by comparing how both groups react. If they both have the same reaction — improvement or not — the drug is deemed ineffective. [Harvard Health Publications, May, 2017]

A familiar example is putting a Band-Aid on a child. It can make the child feel better though there is no medical reason it should. Patients suffering from depression have reported that they feel better after taking a new anti-depressant though all they ingested was an inert substance.

This is well-known information.

But here’s some recent information that takes this conversation to a new level.

A recent study conducted by the Harvard Medical School suggests that deception may not be necessary for the placebo effect to occur; a placebo may work its magic even when people know they are taking a pill filled with nothing but a saline solution.

For instance, a writer went to see his physician because he was having panic attacks which then caused writer’s block. The doctor gave him a bottle of pills marked “placebo” and even told the patient that the pills contained no drugs, but to take two pills when he started feeling anxious. It worked.

What are we to make of this? Are we humans inordinately and pathetically subject to our psyche? Is it manipulative to offer humans a placebo type solution?

It is a deep subject for my shallow mind, but here are my thoughts.

Perhaps you can give yourself a placebo by engaging in known and verified self-help methods. Eat right, exercise, meditate, spend quality time with healthy people, pray—these actions will help you mentally, emotionally and physically, perhaps even beyond their obvious and true benefit.

When others are hurting or distressed, offer emotional support and physical companionship. Play the part of the “Band-Aid.” Or, give them a multivitamin and tell them it’s a rare drug recently approved by the FDA (just kidding).

Readers, I could use your help on this topic. What do you think?

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]

6 Replies to “The placebo effect”

  1. Don,

    I remember years ago when you hosted a discussion on Front-of-Mind awareness. The idea of Front-of-Mind awareness deals with the things we have on our mind taking natural precedence over others. For example, wanting to purchase a Camaro opens up our eyes to every Camaro we might have previously ignored but now, thanks to the awareness, cannot possibly ignore. Perhaps we can apply this principle to this conversation on placebo effect. It would seem when we are allowing our focus to be negatively situated around a problem, we will have a negative and potentially harmful reaction. However, when we begin to take a healthy approach, that is to reexamine our circumstances from a healthy perspective, even if through the aid of a placebo, things begin to seem less dreary. Just my two cents.

    Grateful for your challenging insight,

    1. Charlie, thanks for taking the time to write. I like what you’re saying; perhaps a placebo does focus our attention and puts a positive, hopeful “spin” on the situation. Don [BTW, are you the same Charlie Knight from FBC Grapevine?]

      1. I am that same Charlie Knight and let me say thank you for these great discussions. I still try to apply the principles of life long learning and journaling accordingly!

        1. Charlie, I have fond memories of our times together. I’m so glad to know that you’re still learning and growing. Don

  2. Perhaps it is the human connection not the drug? Like the employee who performs better when he thinks his boss is watching? Or the child who wants to be held post trauma (or threatened trauma)? Or the stranger who offers a complement? We feel better when we make contact no matter how slight or profound. The pill came from a human interaction. It represents someone who wants them to be well.
    We are humans because of connection with other humans. Are we better humans around others who want desire the best for us?
    It is worth a mull.

    1. Denise, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your emphasis on our humanness is spot on. I think we are always encouraged by human touch. Don

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