What Are You On?

… Are you sure?

… And does it really matter?

A recent Time Magazine article reveals that 45% of doctors surveyed said they had prescribed placebos in regular clinical practice and, of those, over half had prescribed them in the previous year. Even more interesting, of all the physicians surveyed — whether or not they had prescribed placebos — 96% believe that dummy pills have real therapeutic effects.


From the gist of this article, apparently many allopathic physicians understand that the mind is the body’s master, as well they might. There are over 60 years’ worth of medical findings which link patients’ cognitive biases to healing — a staggering body of evidence supporting the mind/matter connection.

  • Patients who were taken off blood-pressure medicine for three weeks so they could try a new drug saw their blood pressure drop to normal in the period when they were taking no drug at all.
  • In a study of asthmatics, researchers found that they could produce dilation of the airways by simply telling people they were inhaling a bronchiodilator, even when they weren’t.
  • 52% of colitis patients treated with placebo in 11 different trials reported feeling better — and 50% of the inflamed intestines actually looked better when assessed with a sigmoidoscope.
  • A 2002 study proved that placebo “surgery” (that is, incisions made but no actual surgery performed) is as effective as actual surgery for knee pain. At certain points during follow-up, subjects who had the sham surgery reported better outcomes than those who had the actual surgery.
  • A 2003 study showed that children with ADHD do just as well with half as much medicine when a placebo is added to their treatment — and they experience fewer side effects. In the American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Psychiatry, it is noted that 40% of placebo controls are rated similarly to Ritalin and suggested that placebo may account for more than 50% of the supposed Ritalin effect.
  • Clinical trials of secretin in children with autism showed robust placebo effects and no benefit of secretin over placebo.
  • A saline injection was enough to kill the pain of wisdom tooth extraction, according to studies at the University of Maryland. A symbolic injection stimulated patients’ production of morphine endorphins in a 20-year-old California study.
  • In a 1958 study, patients underwent placebo surgery for angina (pain due to a constricted blood supply). They received local anesthesia and were cut slightly, and ultimately fared better than patients who actually had the surgical procedure.
  • A meta-analysis of nineteen double-blind antidepressant trials published in the American Psychological Association’s online publication, Prevention and Treatment, revealed that the placebo effect accounted for a mind-boggling 75% of any antidepressant’s result.
  • Patients with Parkinson’s disease who thought they had received a transplant of human neurons into their brains — but who really hadn’t — reported an improved quality of life one year later.
  • A University of Michigan study found that believing a medicine will relieve pain is enough to prompt the brain to release its own natural painkillers; the study was the first to pinpoint a specific brain chemistry mechanism for a pain-related placebo effect.

The “placebo effect” is well-documented; at issue for physicians is the taboo on patient education regarding this controversial topic. Many patients do not respond to placebo if they know they are receiving a placebo. The placebo effect also defies allopathic protocol: One can’t prescribe belief in a standardized dose; there simply isn’t one.

In a paper published in the Annual Review of Medicine (Feb., 1996), Harvard’s Herbert Benson wrote, “The placebo effect yields beneficial clinical results in 60–90% of diseases, including angina pectoris, bronchial asthma, herpes simplex, and duodenal ulcers.” He then adds: “Because of the heavily negative connotations of the very words ‘placebo effect,’ the term should be replaced by ‘remembered wellness.’”

“Remembered wellness” has a ring to it, I suppose… But what if we quit playing semantics?

What if everyone knew what the doctors know?

What will it take for people to acknowledge the power of their own observations in creating health and well-being?


~ by theobservereffect on January 10, 2008.

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