Placebo Effect

14 07 2010

The placebo effect. For some of a certain age, that phrase brings to mind the M*A*S*H TV show, where Col. Potter and his docs ran out of pain medication and ended up using sugar pills until their supply was replenished. It worked!

OK, it was pretend, but it also works in real life.  Sometimes.

Whether it’s called the “meaning response” or the good old “placebo effect,” we end up in the same place—a fake treatment potentially causing a real, positive result.

Dr. Harriet Hall wrote a piece featured in that compares various studies done over the years. In it, she indicates that the placebo effect is real for some.  Sometimes, the problem and the effect are self-reported, but not measurable using objective data. Other times, the results are measurable, suggesting there may be a  neurobiological response causing the positive result.

Some scientists, like Dr. Mark Crislip, do not believe there is a placebo effect.

The whole thing can be rather confusing.

As parents, we know that placebos or something like them work.  How many of us have given a small child a sip of sugar water or a piece of candy and promised it would make the pain go away?  And then it did.  Subjective?  You bet!

Some of us have children living with chronic diseases, and we employ subterfuge on occasion to get over the small bumps in that road—nothing claiming to cure, just a little something to ease the pain or discomfort.

Is it real?  Is it ethical?  We each have our opinions.  What do you think?




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