The Power of Placebo
What would you say if your physician told you that the prescription for what ails you was to take two tablets of nothing and call him in the morning?
You’re probably thinking that would do you no good, and you might be right. But only because you knew you were taking something that contained no medicine. However, if he or she told you that you were getting the latest medical advance for your illness, your symptoms might actually improve.
The placebo effect has long been observed in medical circles. Officially, Henry Beecher discovered it as a medic in World War II. After running out of pain-killing morphine, he replaced it with a simple saline solution but continued telling the wounded soldiers it was morphine. About 40% felt an easing of their pain.
Today, the effect has been taken further, getting rid of the secrecy part.
New research is showing that it’s possible that some patients may not need drugs at all, but could be treated with a strategy called “prescription placebo.” It seems that even when patients are told they’re getting a “sugar pill” or other medicine-free substance, some still show improvement. Go figure.
Theories on just why this is range from distrust (“Maybe they really are giving me medicine”) to the idea that placebos could activate the same neurotransmitters as many powerful drugs do (but without the harmful side effects).