It seems that as medicine finds it necessary to not only describe but measure the placebo effect, research projects like this one (into the activation of the placebo effect in Parkinson’s patients) are emerging. In this study, researchers “used their network mapping technique to identify specific brain circuits underlying the response to sham surgery in Parkinson’s disease patients participating in a gene therapy trial.”
This research, from 2010, suggests patients benefit from the placebo effect even when told explicitly that they’re taking an ‘inert substance’
Some fascinating recent research into the use (as in prescription) of placebos by doctors, or rather, patients’ views on this.
The research showed:
- People “were unwilling to accept at face value” that placebos can benefit patients. Instead, they discussed “in some detail” whether placebos actually have an effect or not. (Hint: They do.)
- People were pretty judgmental about those who experience placebo effects, saying things like, “I don’t think he is very bright.” In an email, Bishop says, “I think this comes from the idea that placebo effects are somehow ‘fake’ or illusory, and so someone who experiences a placebo effect has been tricked and is therefore gullible.”
- Almost all the participants believed placebos are only effective if there is deception involved. While that’s not true, most participants agreed that deceptive placebo-prescribing by doctors was unethical in most scenarios.
- One situation where people were comfortable with deceptive prescribing was when the patient is a child; the “magic kiss” was one example of giving placebos to children.
You can read more here.
Lifestyle guru Deepak Chopra says: “The first step toward an alternative is to view pain as a mind-body experience that is highly subjective. As such it can often be approached through a phenomenon called “self-efficacy.” The brain contains many pain-relieving chemicals, and these can be triggered mentally, which is why taking a placebo leads to pain relief in a significant proportion of people. (The reverse is also true through the nocebo effect, where a harmless substance induces pain or fails to relieve it when the subject is told that this is the expected outcome.)”
His take on ‘America’s Pain-Pill Epidemic’ can be seen in full here.
Recent research, published in The Lancet, reveals that paracetomol, the ‘recommended first-line analgesic for acute low back pain’, is no more effective than placebo treatment. Put another way, a placebo is just as likely to generate relief as paracetomol. If you don’t want to read the Lancet report (it’s pretty dry!), there’s a brief article here.
‘The effectiveness of placebos now makes it clear that our bodies do not distinguish between a chemical process and the thought of a chemical process.
Also surprising: As many as 80 percent of all doctors say they have prescribed placebos — which include saline (salt water) injections along with familiar “impure” placebos, such as prescribing an antibiotic for a viral illness.
Nicer patients respond best to placebos. In a multi-university study, people with traits like resiliency, straightforwardness and altruism experienced a greater reduction in pain after taking a placebo than did those with an “angry hostility personality trait.”’