Tag Archives: Placebo Effect

Using placebos in a Covid 19 vaccine?

In this article the author argues strongly against using the ‘double blind placebo controlled’ methodology in testing the effectiveness of the numerous vaccines now in the works.

” … the use of a placebo in a challenge trial for a Covid-19 vaccine is both pointless and ethically questionable.

We’ll use a deliberately simplistic analogy to help explain why. Suppose we need to test a new type of parachute during wartime, when a better parachute happens to be urgently needed. Sooner or later it will have to be tried in a real jump. But we won’t let that happen until we are already quite sure it is going to work. And we are certainly not going to give dummy parachutes to a control group, randomly selected from a group of volunteers. We already know what will happen to them.”

While this logic may hold, as far as testing vaccines go, but we wonder if there’s space to think that, at least for symptoms if not the condition itself, placebos might have a place? After all, nobody yet understands how an intangible input like a placebo actually seems to cause real effects in the material world …

‘Non deceptive’ placebo treatments

We have posted for a while now on so-called ‘open label’ placebos, and the placebo effect engaged when someone actually knows they’re taking a sugar pill (or any other placebo treatment such as a saline injection).

This report, in Science Alert, claims that “across two experiments (…) during a highly arousing negative picture viewing task, non-deceptive placebos reduce both a self-report and neural measure of emotional distress.”

It seems that ‘open label’ placebos can also be described as ‘non-deceptive placebos’. This designation is of importance where researchers try to tackle the ethical issues involved in ‘lying’ to people about the test drug (or non-drug) being administered.

The report is based on research published in the prestigious journal Nature, Placebos without deception reduce self-report and neural measures of emotional distress .

“What if someone took a side-effect free sugar pill twice a day after going through a short convincing video on the power of placebos and experienced reduced stress as a result?” says lead researcher and psychologist Darwin Guevarra from Michigan State University (MSU).

“These results raise that possibility.”

The ‘Pancebo’ Effect

“The pancebo effect is when a person begins to worry that the worst is about to happen without valid evidence. It’s panic over logic.”

This article at Huffpost was written by a Canadian in the early days of the virus (where were you on the 2nd of March?). Of course it reads as naive and uninformed right now, in August, but we include it because it’s the first time we’ve come across the term ‘pancebo’, which remains topical. This was not, perhaps, the author’s intent, since he was referring to a kind of fear-panic (a ‘nocebo’) inspired by the emergence of Covid-19. Instead, these days, it might better refer to the rash of crazy conspiracy theories that crowd our newsfeeds. It’s still about fear, but the ‘pancebo effect’ of fear of the virus seems to have been translated into a generalised fear of authority figures, health officials, government and anyone who can be vaguely associated with the panglobal lizard people who are ‘really’ in control.

Big Pharma: Organised Crime …?

This article isn’t pulling any punches: Big Pharma and Organized Crime — They Are More Similar Than You May Think

“If you believe pharmaceutical corporations hold the health of the general public in high regard, it’s time to reconsider. The industry is filled with examples of wrongful death, extortion, fraud, corruption, obstruction of justice, embezzlement, fake journals, harassment and hit lists that would make even the most hardened Mafia godfather blush.”

You can catch the Placebo Effect from your doctor!

Scientists have known since at least the 1930s that a doctor’s expectations and personal characteristics can significantly influence a patient’s symptom relief. Within research contexts, avoiding these placebo effects is one reason for double blind studies — to keep experimenters from accidentally biasing their results by telegraphing to test subjects what they expect the results of a study to be.

The new study both demonstrates that the placebo effect is transmitted from doctor to patient, and shows how it might work. Researchers randomly assigned undergraduate students to play the role of a patient or a doctor. The “patients” were given a controlled heat stimulus to the forearm, after receiving one of two types of cream from the “doctor.”

Students in the doctor group had previously been conditioned to believe that one of the creams was pain reliever. But in reality both of the two creams that they administered were an identical petroleum jelly-based placebo. And yet, when the doctor actors believed that the cream was a real medication — the researchers even gave the pseudo-medication a name, “thermedol” — the patient actors reported experiencing significantly lower amounts of pain.

As well-documented as the placebo effect is, to see it play out so cleanly surprised the study’s authors themselves. “We did several more studies to convince ourselves it wasn’t just a fluke,” says the study’s primary author, Luke Chang of Dartmouth University. “I’m impressed at how robust the effect seems to be.”

To Use Or Not To Use The Term “Placebo,” That Is (Not) The Question

Like the word dirge, placebo has its origin in the Office of the Dead, the cycle of prayers traditionally sung or recited for the repose of the souls of the dead. The traditional liturgical language of the Roman Catholic Church is Latin, and in Latin, the first word of the first antiphon of the vespers service is placebo, “I shall please.” This word is taken from a phrase in the psalm text that is recited after the antiphon, placebo Domino in regione vivorum, ”I shall please the Lord in the land of the living.” The vespers service of the Office of the Dead came to be called placebo in Middle English, and the expression ‘sing placebo’ came to mean “to flatter, be obsequious.” … Placebo eventually came to mean “flatterer” and “sycophant.”

The term entered medical history in the late 18th century, with a few British doctors that can claim to be the originator. For one, there is Alex Sutherland (born before 1730 – died after 1773) a doctor living and practicing in Bath, Summerset, who used the term to describe certain types of doctors keen to prescribe fashionable medicines such as waters with healing power, which he called “placebo” (doctors) in a popular book published in 1763. About the same time, William Cullen (1710 – 1790) from Edinburgh, Scotland, used it for the first time in a textbook, his Clinical Lectures: He gave a patient mustard powder as a remedy noting “… that I did not trust much to it, but I gave it because it is necessary to give a medicine, and as what I call a placebo,” summarizing today’s entire discussion in a single sentence: Placebos are to please the patient and improve symptoms because of that – what we call the placebo effect. And the third gentleman is John Coakley Lettsom (1744-1815), a doctor from London who resumed a similar position to Cullen; they used placebos of ineffective doses of what were popular medicines of their time.

More on this fascinating history, including the inclusion of placebo in the earliest forms of homeopathic practice, here.