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The Placebo Effect Is Really a Great Thing

A new study finds that pessimists might feel more pain.

A new study out in Science Translational Medicine shows that the benefits of painkillers can be boosted or wiped out simply by manipulating some very simple factors. The BBC reported on how a patient's attitude can affects on the results of studies and in the use of new drugs.

Heat was applied to the legs of 22 patients, who were asked to report the level of pain on a scale of one to 100. They were also attached to an intravenous drip so drugs could be administered secretly. The initial average pain rating was 66. Patients were then given a potent painkiller, remifentanil, without their knowledge and the pain score went down to 55. They were then told they were being given a painkiller and the score went down to 39. Then, without changing the dose, the patients were then told the painkiller had been withdrawn and to expect pain, and the score went up to 64.


Showing that rather than seek a control for psychological factors, trial designs and treatment should seek to maximize the effects of therapeutic agents based on integrating the effects of expectation and active treatment. Working on ways to create a healthy environment for patients that stimulate a response that makes the patients believe they are being given a maximum dose may allow for stronger effects by drugs that are even being used.

Photo (flickr), Creative Commons 2.0, by erix!

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