In May, researchers from Harvard Medical School described a set of variants in 11 genes that they say are linked to the placebo effect and called it the ‘placebome.’ Scientists have known for quite some time that some people are more prone to experiencing the effect than others. And early investigations implicated the body’s natural pain control systems, including the opioid-like chemicals made and released in our own brains.
Research published in August 2015 (Increasing placebo responses over time in U.S. clinical trials of neuropathic pain) and published in the Journal Pain focused on over two decades’ worth of clinical trials – 80 in all. The results showed that, as many have speculated, our placebo response is indeed getting stronger. And, because one measure of a drug’s effectiveness is its ability to perform better than the placebo, more pain-drug trials are failing than in the past. But, interestingly, the researchers found that this increase was only true for studies conducted in the U.S.
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.”‘
Following on from the recent post on antidepressants and the placebo effect, we find a website dedicated to sharing information about antidepressant toxicity. It may be that for some people at least, the meds are not only useless but actually harmful. You be the judge! Toxic Antidepressants.
We’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site that conventional doctors are quite aware that they’re often prescribing ‘placebos’ – that is, antibiotics for conditions which they know will not respond to antibiotics. Why? It seems, that’s what patients expect, and doctors, under the pressure of pushing as many through the doors per hour as they can, just don’t have the time to explain that medication is just not necessary for something like a viral infection. At least, we hope that this is the explanation. We’d hate to think that the medical professiona was at all involved in helping bolster drug sales …
Here’s an NPR news article about the over-prescription phenomenon. Problem is, the practice is not only unnecessary and expensive, it can be dangerous.
According to Livescience, because placebos relate to the power of suggestion, there has been a great deal of interest in finding whether certain groups of people are more susceptible to the placebo effect.
But while researchers have looked at age, gender and religiosity, among other factors, findings have been inconsistent.
"No one has been successful in identifying a profile of a placebo responder," said one researcher.
If such a group were found, she added, "drug companies would be excluding those people [from clinical trials], so they’d be able to test their drugs more correctly."
In 2005, global pharmaceutical sales totalled US$602 billion with growth of 7% from the previous year.
At an average annual growth rate of 14% between 1994 and 2003, pharmaceuticals top the OECD manufacturing trade growth stats, ahead of coke, refined petroleum products and nuclear fuel (8%), medical, precision and optical equipment (7.5%), aircraft and spacecraft (7.4%), and motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers (7.3%).
In 2006 the 10 largest pharmaceuticals firms accounted for 46 per cent of global sales.