Startled by the power of placebos, doctors consider how to use them as real treatment.
By Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow in The Boston Globe
You’re not likely to hear about this from your doctor, but fake medical treatment can work amazingly well. For a range of ailments, from pain and nausea to depression and Parkinson’s disease, placebos–whether sugar pills, saline injections, or sham surgery–have often produced results that rival those of standard therapies.
In a health care industry fueled by ever newer and more dazzling cures, this phenomenon is usually seen as background noise, or even as something of an annoyance. For drug companies, the placebo effect can pose an obstacle to profits–if their medications fail to outperform placebos in clinical trials, they won’t get approved by the FDA. Patients who benefit from placebos might understandably wonder if the healing isn’t somehow false, too.
But as evidence of the effect’s power mounts, members of the medical community are increasingly asking an intriguing question: if the placebo effect can help patients, shouldn’t we start putting it to work? In certain ways, placebos are ideal drugs: they typically have no side effects and are essentially free. And in recent years, research has confirmed that they can bring about genuine improvements in a number of conditions. An active conversation is now under way in leading medical journals, as bioethicists and researchers explore how to give people the real benefits of pretend treatment.
[Read the full article; http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/05/09/the_magic_cure/?page=full%5D