Placebo Effect: The Magic of Belief

The placebo effect is an idea that has always fascinated me. I struggled at first to wrap my head around the concept of it. Basically, it is when someone reports feeling better after receiving a drug that has no active medicine in it. Recently in class, we expanded on this topic to observe how placebos are commonly used in experiments involving new treatments to determine their effectiveness. The general idea of a placebo trial is where two groups of people are given a different drug. One groups drug contains no active medicine while the other one does. After receiving the treatment for a certain period of time, the two groups report on how it made them feel. This can help scientists determine what effects an active drnif_you_believe_it_willug can have on an individual suffering from a specific illness. Now, the placebo effect is defined as “a beneficial effect, produced by a placebo drug or treatment, that cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient’s belief in that treatment” Basically, it is when an individual is given drug that has no active medicine, but they are told it does. As a result the patient feels better despite the fact that he wasn’t actually given medicine. Now, I wanted to figure out if the placebo effect actually has an effect on a persons health, or is it a simple way to trick the body into healing.


A study done in 2013 by Ted Kaptchuk perfectly depicts how the placebo effect works. In this experiment, he gathered a group of 270 subjects who all suffered from severe arm pain. He then randomly assigned patients to receive either a pill or an acupuncture treatment to relieve their pain. The catch of this experiment? The pills contained no medicine and the acupuncture needles were retractable shams. Basically the experiment provided no real medical treatment to patients, only two placebos. This type of experiment could be considered a placebo trial as neither of the two groups knew that their treatment was a fluke. The ull hypothesis would be that phony treatments do nothing, which would make the most sense. However, Dr Kaptchuk made a discovery that could slightly alter how we practice medicine.

After two weeks of receiving phony treatment nearly a third of his patients claimed they were experiencing awful side effects from the drugs. Even more surprising, the other patients reported feeling real pain relief as a result of the treatment. The fake pills and acupuncture treatments had tricked patients into feeling better or worse, even though nothing was changing. So is this simply our mind playing tricks, or does the placebo effect really alter our symptoms?
According to an article written in The Globe And Mall recent studies have shown that pain relieving opioids are released in the brains of patients receiving placebo treatment. This suggests that it could be a true biological phenomenon instead of a mplacebo-effectsedical fluke. Another theory suggests that the body remembers feeling better after taking previous pills, as a result it speeds up the healing process when a placebo is consumed.

Although it is still unclear exactly how the placebo effect work, recent studies make it apparent that it is a real phenomenon. The placebo effect can lead to medical alterations of a persons body despite how sick they actually are. While we don’t know the mechanism behind the placebo effect, it is clear that this is a technique that can be applied to medical fields across the board.

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4 thoughts on “Placebo Effect: The Magic of Belief

  1. Grace Anne Walker

    The placebo effect is something that I most definitely believe in. My mom is a nurse so naturally she undermines all of my illness’s. I try not to take tylenol and advil just because I don’t believe that they work as strongly as everyone claims. I think that the placebo effect works because sometimes I think I feel better immediately after taking any type of medication, which isn’t the case because most medications take time to break down in your body. I liked this article because it is relatable to anyone who has taken medicine and felt instantly better. After reading your article, I found a New York Times article that talks about painkiller addiction and placebos and how they play an effect on each other. Here is the link if you want to check it out!

  2. Lucille Laubenstein

    The placebo effect is something which has been utilized numerous times throughout science, and has frequently been brought up in class when discussing various studies. While I understood the concept of it, the science behind it still confused me, and your blog helped shine a little light on why. The notion in and of itself has been accepted, but the reasoning behind how it works still is unclear. After reading your blog, I did some more research on the topic to see if there was anything more conclusive out there. I found one paper by Raul de la Fuente-Fernandez and Jon Stoessl, which suggest that the placebo effect is a biochemical mechanism which triggers a response by the limbic system. It also claims that the placebo effect may have been a result of natural selection. It is an interesting article which offers different insight to the science behind the placebo effect; it is worth checking out.

    1. Lucille Laubenstein

      Oops! I accidentally did not include the link for the article! Here it is, please do look into it, it really was helpful!*~hmac=5c49c58191e4eeb4f5db6d3de2f2d1b592530b65c19d563800b91cbe0b7cddfc

  3. Grace Ellen Leibow

    As this class has progressed further and further through the semester, the placebo effect has become a long-running pattern in many of our lessons that center around some sort of study. I, too, have wondered about the science behind how something that truly has no effect on a person can cause someone to be mentally tricked into some sort of change occurring. I found a really excellent complimentary TED Talk that discussed “The magic of the placebo”. The speaker, Eric Mead, does a really great job of discussing this exact topic. Maybe if you incorporated it into your post, it could add even more dynamic to your already fascinating topic. You can find it here:

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