The Placebo Effect

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WHAT IS A PLACEBO?

 

A placebo is anything that seems to be a “real” medical treatment but instead is an insignificant solution or substance that only provides a “fake” treatment. Placebos have an active substance that is not harmful and often beneficial for health.

A fake treatment improving a patient’s condition is manipulated by the expectation and the power of positive thinking that accompanies the belief of receiving a medication. Placebos have measurable physiological effects that speeds up pulse rate, increases blood pressure and improves reaction rates.

 

HOW DOES IT WORK?

 

The placebo effect is primarily psychological. It convinces the human mind into believing that a healing tool has been incorporated. It is based on the brain and body interaction and a stronger connection to work together, as pointed out by Professor Ted Kaptchuk, whose research focuses on the placebo effect. He also adds that placebos will not lower your cholesterol or reduce a tumor. They work on modifying symptoms perceived by brain such as pain.

They considerably help

  • pain-management
  • stress related insomnia
  • side effects like fatigue and nausea.

 

IS IT A FAILURE OR A SUCCESS?

 

The Placebo effect was considered a sign of failure for a long time. A placebo is used in clinical trials to test the effectiveness of treatments and often used in most other studies. For eg: people in one group receives the drug while the other receives a placebo. The way the two groups respond to the drug is compared by researchers.

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IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD

 

Let me now tell you about an experiment to determine the effect of a placebo effect. About 300 harried commuters with exhaustion and headache were rounded up at the New York subway on a workday rush hour. In the middle of aggravating protests, that worsened headaches, giving more room for the effect of the cure, the people were convinced of some sort of reward for them was awaiting them if they signed up. After a little bit of convincing, the commuters were divided into three rooms with hundred people each.

The mode of action that was followed included not giving anything to the first group. No speech, no drug and no placebo.

A common speech was offered to each of the other two groups about the discovery of a powerful, painkiller, a miracle drug. The groups were encouraged to think they are the lucky chance recipient of this drug. The second group were given a drug, aspirin with codeine which is a proven pain reliever. The third group was only provided with what is indeed a sugar pill.

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After an incubation period of about an hour the people were asked to report on their headaches. In the first group that did not receive the speech or the cure, eighty percent admit to have the headache intact.

In the second group however, the ninety reported of the disappearance of pain, with additions of admitting to the drug being a miracle potion and queries of where they can buy it.

The third group, the one which had been technically deceived, fifty five people admitted to have been relieved of this pain while the rest of the group did not. The former believing in the drug’s effects.

This experiment revealed that even though the sugar pill has no physiological action to cure a headache, the experiment proved otherwise. The twenty people in the first group showed that the rest of an hour was enough to cure the headache for them. Off the fifty five people in the third group, even if twenty people were cured due to the rest, the rest thirty five gave in to the assurance of receiving the drug which was indeed a sugar pill. This is how the Placebo effect works.

IS IT DECEPTION?

 

NO. The placebo effect is not deception, delusion or lying. It is also not an effect of the human mind continuously thinking of being cured. There have been cases where experiments have been carried out where subjects were blind to the conditions, and measurable, clinically replicable improvements were observed.

It is a product of expectation. The human brain anticipates outcomes, the anticipation produces, these outcomes.

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