Study Says Placebos Can be just as Strong as Prescribed Medication


Australian pain researcher Damien Finniss, from Sydney's Royal North Shore Pain Management and Research Institute has completed a study on placebos. Finniss and his researchers found that people given a placebo improved, sometimes dramatically.

"At the core, placebo is about the mind-brain interaction so we know that there's lots of psychological components in placebo therapy, that's patients' beliefs, expectations, desire for improvement in their symptoms," Finniss said.

In this study the research team discovered researchers found it is not what is in the sugar pill or fake injection that makes patients feel healthier, but the act itself of receiving treatment that switches on the brain to heal.

And they found patients do not have to even get a placebo for the benefits to occur.
"It's about using our routine therapies but realizing there is another component to what we do, these internal healing mechanisms that we can activate to improve our current therapies," Mr Finniss said.


The doctor-patient relationship, plus the expectation of recovery, may sometimes be enough to change a patient's brain, body and behavior. Finniss said the research, which has been published in medical journal The Lancet, showed treatments that engage the mind can potentially promote the body's natural healing mechanisms.

Finniss stated, "Our research reveals that placebo effects can occur in routine medical practice across a wide range of medical conditions -- and these effects can be therapeutically powerful."

"It's not that placebos or inert substances help," said Linda Blair, a psychologist and spokeswoman for the British Psychological Society. "It's that people's belief in inert substances help."

Finniss said some studies had shown that patients who were given a painkiller that was later replaced with a placebo still continued to report a lessening in their pain, a finding confirmed by brain scans.

“When you think you're going to get a drug that helps, your brain reacts as if it's getting relief," said Walter Brown, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown and Tufts University. "But we don't know how that thought that you're going to get better actually translates into something happening in the brain."

Finniss said, “You don't have to give a dummy pill to get a placebo effect," Finniss told AFP, adding that the context of the treatment was often just as important. But what if you have little faith in your doctor's ability to help you? "Hypothetically, you may be at risk of less of a placebo effect,"