All posts by Michael Doneman

Placebo marketing by Big Pharma

placebo_marketing

A scary story in Salon about overt corporate deception in the marketing (even just the *naming*!) of certain drug products – as in the ‘repackaging’ of Prozac by Eli Lilly to exploit new markets. As in other, non-pharmaceutical marketing, cultural expectations play an enormous role.

‘I suggested to Moerman how odd it is that the meanings we ascribe to a pill can sometimes be more powerful than its active substance, especially in the realm of psychopharmacology.

“Well, James, you’re an anthropologist, right? You know the power of meaning! Every culture has its symbols and objects of veneration and it is no different with us. Once, for us, we revered crosses and statues of the Virgin Mary, but now pills and stethoscopes capture our worship. So even an inert pill can affect us because it has shape and form and a context, and it has language attached. It comes in a blue box or a pink box, it’s taken in a pharmacy, doctor’s room, or hospital with all the panoply of a thousand years of medical tradition behind it to give it overwhelming symbolic weight.”‘

The placebo effect in marketing

seth_godin

Online marketing guru Seth Godin talks openly here about the placebo effect and its relation to modern marketing. He says that, “(As marketers) … we don’t like to admit that we tell stories, that we’re in the placebo business. Instead, we tell ourselves about features and benefits as a way to rationalize our desire to to help our customers by allowing them to lie to themselves.

The design of your blog or your package or your outfit is nothing but an affect designed to create the placebo effect. … It’s all storytelling, it’s all lies.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

In fact, your marketplace insists on it.”

The role of the subconscious

Numbers Within

 

Research is ongoing into the role of the subconscious mind in triggering both the placebo and ‘nocebo’ effect in humans, with considerable implications for health care if the research is borne out in practice. As we’ve seen elsewhere in this blog, it is quite routine, for example, for conventional medical providers to knowingly prescribe mock or ineffectual medications (such as antibiotics for viral conditions), given patient expectations and for that matter social norms. This has not been named as knowingly prescribing placebos, or knowingly invoking the placebo effect, but the research is mounting!

 

 

Find benefits in ritual behaviors

traditional_healing

Traditional ritual behaviour related to healing and harmonising are often dismissed out of hand in these ‘enlightened’ times. However, as Dr William Morrow explains:

“A further look at this mechanism reveals the power of the truly mysterious healing that is delivered by the placebo effect. Old notion of placebo: some medical research wants to eliminate the placebo effect in order to prove the effectiveness of a new pharmaceutical. New notion of a positive and purposeful placebo: promoting healing practices, including the “technique” of how family medicine is administered. And, knowingly or unknowingly, the delivery of alternative medicine could be described as following a ritual, even when the so-called science is not mainline.”

 

More on placebos and depression

depression

From Mary Nichols, Design & Trend

Sugar pills can lower depression in people, writes Nature World News.

A new study suggests that people who believe that medication will help them to fight depression are those more likely to respond to placebo or fake treatments – compared with those who are skeptical about pharmaceutical interventions.

The study, by researchers at the University of California, found that the ‘power of pill’ is real for some depression patients.

‘In short, if you think a pill is going to work, it probably will,’ Andrew Leuchter, the study’s first author and a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, said in a statement.

The study included 88 people, who were aged between 18 and 65 years.

All participants had been diagnosed with depression and were given eight weeks of treatment.

Of the 88 patients, 29 received placebo treatment as well as supportive care, 20 were given supportive care alone and 39 were given genuine medication and supportive care.

The study is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Harvard’s Kaptchuk at TEDMED 2014

kaptchuk

From Stephanie Buam, at Medcity News:

“It would be oversimplified to call it the power of positive thinking, but Harvard Medical School Professor Ted Kaptchuk‘s talk at TEDMED 2014 in Washington D.C., highlighted compelling research surrounding the placebo effect. Kaptchuk focused on applications of the placebo effect for conditions as diverse as migraine headaches to Parkinson’s disease. It demonstrates that some of the power of a drug comes from a patient thinking that it will work.”

Measuring the Placebo Effect

parkinsons

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.”

Prescribing Placebos: What Patients Think

prescription

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.