Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Placebo Effect

Everyone has heard of the placebo effect, but as a reminder, here is the definition from Wikipedia.

A placebo is a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient. Sometimes patients given a placebo treatment will have a perceived or actual improvement in a medical condition, a phenomenon commonly called the placebo effect.

Up until recently, it was assumed that deception was required for the placebo effect to work, but new research is showing that not to be true. Here is an excerpt from an article at The Verge.

In 2010, researchers from Harvard Medical School and other institutions did a study on patients diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). One group received no treatment, while the other patients were told they’d be taking inactive drugs and told that placebos can have healing effects. To drive the point home, the fake drugs were placed in bottles labeled "placebo pills."

The patients who knew they were taking placebo pills reported twice as much relief as the control group. The placebo had healing effects comparable to some of the best real IBS drugs. "Our results challenge ‘the conventional wisdom’ that placebo effects require ‘intentional ignorance,’" the researchers wrote.

If placebos could be effectively prescribed without the need to lie to patients, it would be revolutionary. Placebos are cheaper and safer than many treatments. Studies have shown placebos to be 75 percent as effective as antidepressants. Fake surgeries have been shown to be just as effective as real surgeries in treating Parkinson’s. Today placebos are used to test treatments, but in the future they could be the treatment.

Daniel Jacobs believes he knows how the placebo effect works and has founded the startup company "Plecebo Effect" to bring that knowledge to the world in the form of a phone app. The video above is a demo of the app, and I know I certainly felt better after viewing it, for the placebo effect is in fact a spiritual effect resulting from simply turning the mind inward on a daily basis. However, given the widespread scientific validation of the placebo effect, perhaps this app has the potential to get a large number of people starting a daily spiritual practice.

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