The Placebo Effect–Myth vs. Science

Background

There has been a large uptick in interest about the so-called placebo effect, mostly from the complementary and alternative junk medicine (CAM) crowd. Evidently, they feel that being equivalent to doing nothing is good enough to be real. A recent article in the Wall Street JournalWhy Placebos Work Wonders, is indicative of this recent pro-placebo point-of-view.  

What exactly is the placebo effect? The definition is often misused, implying some beneficial effect from a sugar pill or sham treatment. But in medicine, a placebo is actually a failure. If a new pharmaceutical, procedure or medical device shows no difference in efficacy compared to a placebo, then it is rejected.  But the CAM-pushing herd thinks that proves its a success when one of its potions and lotions is equivalent to a placebo. What? A failure of a modality in evidence-based medicine is somehow converted into a successful product in the CAM world?

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The Placebo Myth from Science Based Medicine

While doing some research on the placebo non-effect, I found this article, The Placebo Myth, by Mark Crislip (an infectious disease specialist), in the Science Based Medicine blog.  He makes a simple and effective question which debunks the “placebo effect”:  “why would actively doing nothing have any measurable physiologic effect? It shouldn’t and it doesn’t. Mind over matter? Bah, humbug.”  He continues, “I think that the placebo effect with pain is a mild example of cognitive behavioral therapy; the pain stays the same, it is the emotional response that is altered.”  So, it’s talking therapy (albeit not very focused), not a sugar pill that works. Continue reading “The Placebo Myth from Science Based Medicine”