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Placebos work even for patients in the know

Posted on Monday, 27 July, 2015 | Comment icon 9 comments

The science behind the placebo effect has long intrigued researchers. Image Credit:
Scientists have determined that placebos can be effective even for patients who know they are taking one.
Despite containing no active ingredients at all placebos have proven surprisingly effective for some patients in treating a wide range of ailments and scientists have long struggled to understand the neurobiological processes responsible for this effect.

Even odder still is that, according to a new study, the placebo's potency can continue in a patient long after they become aware of the fact that what they are taking is not real medicine.

"We're still learning a lot about the critical ingredients of placebo effects," said Tor Wager of the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at the University of Colorado.

"What we think now is that they require both belief in the power of the treatment and experiences that are consistent with those beliefs. Those experiences make the brain learn to respond to the treatment as a real event."
In a series of experiments scientists treated several patients with superficial burns using a fake analgesic a total of four times. Even after being told that the gel was fake however the patients still reported that it seemed to ease the pain despite the fact that it contained no active ingredients.

"They believed the treatment was effective in relieving pain," said graduate student Scott Schafer. "After this process, they had acquired the placebo effect. We tested them with and without the treatment on medium intensity. They reported less pain with the placebo."

The researchers believe that in the future a better understanding of the placebo effect could lead to more effective ways to help wean people off addictive drugs and other substances.

"If a child has experience with a drug working, you could wean them off the drug, or switch that drug a placebo, and have them continue taking it," said Schafer.

Source: | Comments (9)

Tags: Placebo

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by pallidin on 26 July, 2015, 19:34
Yeah, the placebo effect is well-documented. It's causation and effects, though, are not well understood.
Comment icon #2 Posted by pallidin on 26 July, 2015, 19:39
One of the suggestive causation is a massive release of endorphins. How this translates into "healing" is unknown. Often it does not.
Comment icon #3 Posted by XenoFish on 26 July, 2015, 19:48
I guess it's the intent behind it's use. A positively (emotionally) charged intent seems to keep working. (yes I know negative emotions do the same thing). It's that weird mind-body thing.
Comment icon #4 Posted by questionmark on 27 July, 2015, 14:26
Well, that sure makes a hole into some "alternative" medicines.... if a placebo works so should medicine that is diluted to the extend that it is medically ineffective.... which has nothing to do with the medicine itself.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Nnicolette on 27 July, 2015, 14:52
Well i would also bet that any cool wet gel could sooth a burn a little...
Comment icon #6 Posted by toast on 27 July, 2015, 15:07
On all discussions about the Placebo effect it should not be forgotten that this effect, or better said the very single positive effects on some individuals, are too often overrated by the media. Placebos, besides the investigational drug itself, are always in use in clinical trials to evaluate the effectiveness of the investigational drug, that is given to patients/participants of the so called verum group, by comparison with patients/participants of the called controll group, so ppl who got placebos instead of the investigational drug. If the placebo effect would be such frequent as some ppl... [More]
Comment icon #7 Posted by paperdyer on 27 July, 2015, 15:54
I think part of the effect is that you've taken a pill that will take care of your pain, so you forget about it and it goes away by itself. How many of you have had a headache or other annoying pain that you'd normally that something for, but couldn't at that particular moment. You start doing something and all of a sudden you realize the pain is gone. I know I have. Not quite the same, but the result is the same. You're "cured" without taking any medication.
Comment icon #8 Posted by Kiltedmusician on 27 July, 2015, 17:34
It could be that since we are social beings we are wired to respond to someone caring enough to help us. Try having the groups apply the gel themselves and see what happens then. Have them pick out whatever gel they think might work best from bottles that look different but have the same gel in them so they don't even feel like they're really being cared for and see if the placebo effect still happens. I bet it would be greatly diminished.
Comment icon #9 Posted by back to earth on 28 July, 2015, 0:18
Placebos certainly work when the person knows it is a placebo . So that knocks out the theory that is caused by the belief that the placebo is the real drug. I want to test it by removing the experiment to the outside of the person. We tell two groups of people that we are testing one of those electronic rodent repellent machines. They test the machines and tab the results. but one group (who we dont tell) machines dont work. I know it sounds crazy ... but until the experiment is done ...... ?

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