In case you’re not quite sure what a placebo is, it’s a substance that has no therapeutic effect and is used as a control in testing new drugs/therapies. It is also known as a “sugar pill.”
When studying the effects of experimental medications, researchers will form two groups of people. Group-A gets their new drug, while Group-B gets a placebo. Then they’ll compare the effects of each group to gain a better understanding of what the experimental drug does to people.
Logic would tell us that the group who receives the sugar pill shouldn’t experience any changes… but they do. The fact that anyone can experience improvements (or side effects) from a placebo demonstrates the power of our beliefs. It shows us that some people can actually get better if they think something is being done to help them improve.
Wired Magazine printed an article about the placebo effect, stating: “The fact that taking a faux drug can powerfully improve some people’s health—the so-called placebo effect—has long been considered an embarrassment to the serious practice of pharmacology.”
Embarrassment indeed… kind of like if Tiger Woods duffed his first tee shot during an opening round of the Master’s Championship. It’s a slap in the face to pharmaceutical companies who spend millions of dollars per day advertising how much you need their help.
Interestingly enough, the “placebo effect” has been getting stronger. “Half of all drugs that fail in late-stage trials drop out of the pipeline due to their inability to beat sugar pills.” The big question is why… Why are more and more of these biologically inert pretend-pills matching the strength of prescription drugs?
TV host, Steven Colbert, addresses the placebo issue in this video (at 3:56) during a segment called Experimental Drugs. In it, Colbert highlights, “One reason this may be happening is that drug companies have marketed pills so successfully that Americans believe a pill can solve any problem… and the more we believe that a pill will work, the stronger the placebo effect gets.”
So it would seem that the pharmaceutical industry has shot themselves in the foot. In their pill-pushing pursuits, they’ve brought unexpected attention to the body’s innate healing abilities by way of placebo. (BTW, chiropractors have been educating the masses about the body’s self-healing ability for 114 years).
Next time you see a new drug commercial, think about how much cash was flushed down the toilet during the trial-and-error phase of its development. If it’s true that half of the drugs being researched get canned because they’re no better than make-believe sugar pills, you can bet that drug companies will turn to you, the American consumer, to recoup these losses.
Great post, Dr. Tanase! The mind is a powerful thing, indeed!