How Placebos Work

It's amazing that a sugar pill can sometimes "fix" an ailment. Placebos are often prescribed, and sometimes to great therapeutic effect. Sometimes the simple act of believing you're going to get better can actually make you get better. Though the placebo throws a physician's honesty into question, many patients make lasting improvements with its aid.

Recent posts on Placebo

Do You Believe In Magic?

By Temma Ehrenfeld on October 26, 2016 in Open Gently
Don't fall for quack cures like homeopathy.

No, Placebo Response Rates Are Not on the Rise

By Peter D Kramer on October 13, 2016 in In Practice
New research finds that placebo responses are not on the rise in antidepressant trials—a result that suggests the impact of placebo has been exagerated

Why Doctors See Antidepressant Effects That Researchers Miss

By Peter D Kramer on September 22, 2016 in In Practice
Trust drug trials and mistrust clinical observation? Sometimes doctors know best—while researchers are blind to factors that help depressed patients recover.

"Cloudy with a Chance of Pain" Embodies Citizen Science

By Christopher Bergland on September 07, 2016 in The Athlete's Way
A groundbreaking initiative in the UK is using smartphone technology and citizen science to identify whether damp and gray weather really does cause stiffness in your joints

Add a Dose of Skepticism to Whatever You Believe

A finely honed doubt is as beautiful as a deeply held belief.

Many Commonly Used Drugs Are Useless

By Allen J Frances M.D. on August 07, 2016 in Saving Normal
Drug company marketing muscle can turn useless meds into financial blockbusters.

Stronger Drugs, Stronger Placebos

By Peter D Kramer on July 19, 2016 in In Practice
New research is elucidating the biological underpinnings of the placebo response. The results might enhance our appreciation of real—inherently effective—medications.

Favorable Trajectories

By Peter D Kramer on May 27, 2016 in In Practice
How distinctive are antidepressants? Answers from research that looks at progress made by individual patients.

Antidepressants Work, But Only For Really Depressed People

By Allen J Frances M.D. on May 07, 2016 in Saving Normal
People who don't really need antidepressant are taking far too many, while those who desperately do need them are not getting nearly enough.

Mindfulness Meditation Provides Pain Relief Without Opioids

Meditation offers a drug-free alternative for coping with pain. A study released today reports that mindfulness meditation triggers pain relief without engaging opioid receptors.

Revisiting the Placebo Effect

What do placebo effects reveal about the mind-body connection? Do our bodies have the capacity to self-heal?

Transhumanism Movement Wants to Eliminate Existential Risk

By Zoltan Istvan on March 12, 2016 in The Transhumanist Philosopher
As a 2016 US Presidential candidate, it amazes me that more attention is not dedicated to overcoming existential risk by the very thing humans are good at: innovating.

Do Vitamins Have Placebo Effects?

By Nigel Barber Ph.D. on February 11, 2016 in The Human Beast
After years of hearing that vitamin supplementation was protective of health, we are now hearing that they are a waste of money for people with an adequate diet.

A Novel Trial for Pediatric Bipolar Disorder

The failure of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder to respond to lamotrigine as adolescents and adults...

Saffron for Emotional Health

By Peter Bongiorno ND, LAc on January 10, 2016 in Inner Source
Want a way to spice up your mood? Solid research is suggesting you may want to add saffron on your psychoemotional as well as culinary spice rack.

A Sad Clinical Trial for Depression

One of the most incendiary indictments of clinical psychopharmacology trials in children and adolescents was published in the September 2015 Issue of the well respected British Med

Can Prayer Harm Your Health?

By Eric Haseltine Ph.D. on December 13, 2015 in Long Fuse, Big Bang
Research from Harvard Medical School yields surprising answers

You Can Learn to Expect Pain, Even Without Experiencing Pain

By Art Markman Ph.D. on December 08, 2015 in Ulterior Motives
One of my kids got allergy shots when he was younger. Each week, we would drive to a clinic, and sit in the waiting room. At first, he expected a lot of pain.

Doctor Prescribes a Reality Check for Homeopathy

By Guy P. Harrison on November 22, 2015 in About Thinking
Homeopathic products are popular these days. What does a doctor say about them?

Stimulant Treatment of Children with ADHD and Tics

For decades a dispute has persisted about whether stimulant medications for ADHD can cause tics. A recent study seems to have resolved the issue.

Listening to Placebo, Especially in the U.S.

By Christopher Lane Ph.D. on October 23, 2015 in Side Effects
Why is the placebo effect intensifying sharply among Americans—and why now?

Generic Drugs Live Down to Expectations

By Linda Wasmer Andrews on October 20, 2015 in Minding the Body
Generic drugs are the omega dogs of the pharmaceutical world. They don’t get much respect, and that could lead to reduced effectiveness and increased side effects.

Your Back or Neck Hurts—What Can You Do?

By Temma Ehrenfeld on September 12, 2015 in Open Gently
When in pain, embrace the placebo that works for you.

A Magical Elixir for the Mind

By Gary L. Wenk Ph. D. on August 09, 2015 in Your Brain on Food
The fact that science has not yet invented a true brain enhancer has not stopped people from selling magical elixirs on the TV and internet.

Mass Suggestion at 40,000 ft.

By Robert Bartholomew Ph.D. on August 06, 2015 in It's Catching
You can literally think yourself sick.

The Quicksand of Self-deception: The Nocebo Effect

The placebo effect is a well-known phenomenon. Less well-known is the nocebo effect, placebo’s “evil twin.” Can physicians cause more harm than good when they give their patients too much information about a potential medication or therapeutic treatment, including those for weight-related disorders? What are the ethical considerations involved in withholding information?

Beyond Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

By Marty Nemko Ph.D. on July 21, 2015 in How To Do Life
CBT needs to move from THE Therapy to being just one tool in the tool box.

Can Using Xanax When Flying Cause PTSD?

“We barely made it. After we landed, they closed the airport. Thank God I had my Xanax to get me through it.” Though life-threatening events happen rarely in aviation, they happen routinely in the Xanax-fueled mind of an anxious flier. Threats to one's life, whether real or imagination-based, can lead to PTSD.

An Epidemic of Questionable Care

By Christopher Lane Ph.D. on May 12, 2015 in Side Effects
When does “low-value care” become no-value care?

Think Twice Before Getting Knee Surgery

Accumulating evidence now proves that much of arthroscopic (keyhole) knee surgery may be unnecessary because the results are no better than placebo. This is an especially startling finding because this is the second most common surgical procedure in the world (after cataract surgery).