Placebos are getting under the skin of the drug pushers

It sounds counter-intuitive, but it seems that placebos are geting ‘stronger’ … or more to the point, the placebo effect is increasingly recognised as touching the heart of the overall process of healing and the nature of wellness. A fascinating article on this dynamic phenomenon in Wired magazine – looks like the debate is going mainstream!

And lest we forget … there’s money at stake. Big money.

Giving placebos could help patients?

According to this article from the ‘OnMedica’ medical website, doctors are being encouraged to consider the “meta-placebo” effect: ‘the healing belief that even fake/placebo treatments have positive effects . . . if both the doctor and the patient believe in the healing powers of the fake treatment, it does not matter that both know the treatment is fake’. No need to wait for medical tests to verify this hypothesis. A growing number have already experienced this effect using our Universal Placebos. See our Testimonials page.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Doctors could steer patients away from unproven alternative therapies if they could use dummy pills, suggests Dutch research.

Oskar van Deventer, a researcher from Leidschendam in the Netherlandspoints out that it is a well established medical fact that fake treatments do work.

If this is the case, he argues, doctors could include placebo pills in their medical armamentarium. But then the doctor might have to lie to the patient and this would present an ethical dilemma.

“On the one hand, the doctor does not want to lie to his patient. On the other hand, the effect of the fake treatment would diminish if the patient knows it is fake. For this reason, fake treatments are typically left to practitioners of so-called alternative medicine who are often not even aware of the ethical dilemma,” he writes in the journal Medical Hypotheses.

However he believes this is not the case as telling the truth about the dummy treatment would not stop it from being effective. This type of treatment is called the ‘meta-placebo’ effect.

“This is based on the healing belief that even fake/placebo treatments have positive effects. That is, if both the doctor and the patient believe in the healing powers of the fake treatment, it does not matter that both know the treatment is fake,” he says.

If such an effect does exist, it would solve a few complexities for today’s medics. They would not have to lie to patients when prescribing them placebos and by having such treatments at their disposal they could continue to regularly monitor patients’ symptoms whilst on the “treatment”. The doctor could also help to prevent people from using alternative medicine, which can be both expensive and risky to health.

The hypothesis that the “meta-placebo” effect exists needs to be tested before such treatments can become evidence-based medicine.

Using the equivalent to the gold standard of the double blind trial would create a challenge for such research as would the dilemma over which condition to test it on, he says, but he calls on readers to help meet those challenges in testing the effect.

The article follows figures published by the Prescription Pricing Authority last month that show a fall in the prescribing of homeopathic remedies by GPs from 83,000 in 2005 to 49,300 in 2007.

However separately, a pilot study from five NHS homeopathic hospitals found 60% of the 1797 patients treated with homeopathic remedies reported an improvement in quality of life.

The top four most treated conditions were eczema, chronic fatigue syndrome, menopause and osteoarthritis. Amongst those four, the proportion of patients that reported an improvement in quality of life after six visits to the homeopath varied from 59.3% for chronic fatigue syndrome and 73.3% for menopause. Overall, 30 common conditions were being treated by homeopaths.

Medical Hypotheses 2008; 71: 335–9; Homeopathy 2008; 97: 114-121

Obecalp Controversy

What a difference a mention in the NY Times makes! There’s been an incredible amount of web traffic generated by a website advertising ‘Obecalp‘ (‘placebo backwards), including a very lively debate at one of our favourite sites, Boingboing

In the Boingboing exchanges, most people are objecting to (a) enculturating kids into pill-popping behaviours, and (b) deceiving kids about the actual nature of the pill. Nobody’s gainsaying the operation of the so-called placebo effect, it seems to be more about the parenting issues …

I guess the same objections would be raised to behaviour like putting a Flintstones-themed band-aid on a bumped knee that didn’t actually need a band-aid, with the assurance that this would ‘make it better’…?

Two things, in defence of the placebo-as-pill approach (and astute readers will be aware that the placebo effect can also be engaged through sham injections, sham surgery … and possibly Mystical Words Uttered Backwards Under a Full Moon and so forth …

As conscious purveyors of placebos, we’re concerned with the potential of the placebo effect to inspire self-healing. We don’t recommend that people lie about or misrepresent our product: it’s a sugar pill, inert, side-effect free … BUT the placebo effect exists, and there is some evidence to show that people ingesting a placebo *in the awareness that it’s a placebo* may still gain some benefit. That’s the ‘honesty in parenting’ bit.

As to the pill-popping-culture bit, well … perhaps. One of our team is a homeopath, and consequently aware of the materialist critique that homeopathic remedies are also nothing else but placebos. In general, our feeling is ‘so what? If there’s no deception and misrepresentation, and the things actually work, what’s the harm?’

We understand the passion and the aggro, to an extent. Nobody likes the idea of ripping people off and leveraging the pain of children. But we can assure you there’s a case to be made for harmless and light-hearted exploration of the placebo effect, and especially for the questions it raises about the same pill-popping culture that encourages conventional practitioners to regularly use ineffective treatments (such as prescribing antibiotics for viral infections).

Powerful Placebo Pause

Recently I was in a working party trying to design a new structure of governance for a not for profit organisation that had ten companies, employing over one thousand people with an annual budget of $90,000,000.  We ground to a silent halt.  No energy, no ideas.  When you need help or when all else fails…. Placebo Pilules were passed around and these little treasures lifted the atmosphere and our energy and helped us to  move towards creative solutions. Nothing Works Better!

Mary (Brisbane) 

Travelling with Placebos

I gave a card to a colleague who is travelling abroad with some Placebo pilules in a plastic pocket with the best of pilule advice. I got this reply this morning:

"Thank you so much for your good wishes and just for thinking of me. I have packed the pilules and know that when I take them I will be in a different space! I note you have enough to really make a difference!!! Thank you for sharing."

Mary (Brisbane)

Avoiding the Trap Door

I was only thinking of you yesterday, stimulated by the bottle of placebo’s sitting on my desk. Yes, I take three a day and they are working !! Or at least something is. Maybe it was our talk. Haven’t fallen through a trapdoor since.

(Name Withheld by Request) Brisbane

I had this great thing happen . . .

I had this great thing happen just after I got back after new year. I wasn’t offered a further contract at the college and so had to leave on the 18th January. I was so upset and it brought up all insecurities like not good enough or I have failed again . . . and I was in this flat in the city with no money coming in!

I got home in tears and had got off the phone from a friend after bewailing my fate ( gremlins going nuts inside) and I picked up the Placebo…I said to myself, “This is stupid, I cannot and will not go down again, I have to succeed” as I popped a pill.

You have no idea, well of course you have, but I suddenly I went into a total calm state and lay on the sofa and fell into a deep sleep. I woke renewed cooked a curry and got on with life. Soon after I was offered a new job teaching English to Indian Punjabi young men and women and it’s lovely . . . feel like I’m in India!

So I cannot tell you how incredible the peace and the sleep that descended on me was . . . incredible. I have told my all my friends that I can vouch for Placebo efficacy!I am going to be a great success!

Love to you Jane xxxxxx



Wow!!! Universal Placebo. Just what I always wanted. I have taken them all at once since I believe that more is more. I am now sane, balanced, brilliant, beautiful and 10kg lighter (in this last instance though, less is more) and the sun again shines out of my unowot.

Evelyn, Sydney

Frequently Asked Questions

Are you for real?

Yes! We are offering placebos for sale to the general public for the first time.

Yes! Real serious, really light-hearted.

Does Placebo really work?

Statistically it will always work for some.

Nothing works better.

Does the placebo effect work if you know you are taking a placebo?

Yes. Look at this.

Suck it and see.

Does Placebo have any side effects?

No known side effects as there are no active ingredients.

Only good ones.

What does Placebo contain?

100% sucrose (sugar)

Faith, hope, trust and love

What does Placebo treat?

Anything you want it to.

Everything you want it to.

What is the recommended dosage?

Three pilules on waking and before sleep for at least 10 days.

Take as many as you like – you can’t overdose.

What if I cannot have sucrose?

Think positively. The mind and our beliefs are very powerful. Affirm your ability to heal yourself.

Hold the pilules in your hand for at least one minute.

Will I improve my relationships while taking Placebo?

If you support it with right action.

Loss is gain and gain is loss.

Will I improve my capacity to study while I use Placebo?

Focus on your intention each time you take a dose and note whether that helps performance.

If you want to.

Will I gain the confidence to request a better salary if I use Placebo?

Yes. If you never try, you will never know.

Offer one to your boss.

Will I enjoy house cleaning while using Placebo?

It may only seem so, but…who cares?

It may only seem so, but…who cares?

Will I improve my fantasies using Placebo?

Definitely. But you must retain a sense of openness.

And the colours will be brighter.

Can I use Placebo if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?

No worries. Placebo is not a drug.

Yes – remember to double the dose.

Can I use Placebo while under the influence of drugs or alcohol?

Your choice.

Placebo is not a drug.

Can I use Placebo while on antibiotics?

Placebo complements any other medicines and therapies.

Placebo is not a drug.

Can I use Placebo while driving a car, flying an aircraft, riding a bike or operating heavy machinery?

Yes, with complete safety.

Bon voyage!

Will Placebo show up in drug testing?


You can’t test nothing. However, it may enhance performance.

Can I use Placebo while trying to become pregnant?

The placebo effect happens.

Yes yes yeee-eees – give it to me one more time … baby.

Can children take Placebo?

Yes, especially effective with a little story.

Cosmic band-aids – Liam calls them ‘angel pills’.

How do I store the product?

In your kitchen, handbag, briefcase, car, first aid kit, gym bag.


How long does a bottle last?

A minimum of three months if used at the recommended dose.

Depends …

How quickly can I receive my next bottle of Placebo?

We dispatch within a week of receiving the order. If you can’t see pilules through the hole in the label on the bottle, order immediately.

As fast as a click away – think Placebo, receive Placebo.