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 drnug 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 medical 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.