After reading and commenting on psucfb’s blog last week, I was really interested in some of the issues raised so this inspired me to delve in deeper and share my opinion with you all 😀
A placebo is a medically ineffectual treatment for a disease (or other medical conditions) designed to basically deceive the recipient into thinking the treatment will make them better. People who are given placebo drugs are unaware that it is medically ineffective and are told prior to taking it that it will improve their medical condition, many patients who receive the placebo drug are actually ‘fooled’ into believing this as after taking the drug they report feeling cured. This is known as the placebo effect. The placebo effect can occur from the recipients’ conscious belief in a drug, so if they convince themselves that it’s going to have an effect then it will. The placebo effect can also be an effect of the person’s subconscious associations between recovering and the experience of being treated.
The placebo effect is very controversial, with a lot of people believing it is wrong to deceive the patients in such a way. There are extreme example cases of how the placebo can be deemed wrong, such as The – highly unethical -Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (1932-72)*. This is an infamous clinical study which investigated what would happen if syphilis was left untreated, so patients were provided with a placebo treatment instead of actual syphilis treatment. The public health sector enrolled 600 men (399 with syphilis, 201 disease-free), the men were unaware that they ever had syphilis and they were told they were just being enrolled for free healthcare on “bad blood”. Midway through the experiment (1947) penicillin was recognized as a curable drug for syphilis, yet the experiments chose to ignore this and refused to save lives by giving the patients penicllin and they carried on with their placebo treatment!!! Once the press found out about the experiment in 1972 the study was immediately called off, however, it was unfortunately too late as many of the men had died from syphilis and (as they were never made aware of their disease) they had also passed it on to their wives which ultimately lead to their children being born with syphilis.
This experiment is obviously very wrong and unethical, and did not show any signs of placebo treatment working. However, there are cases where the placebo effect has been proved very effective and since this experiment, ethical considerations have been put into place making the placebo effect more humane. Studies now require informed consent, communication of diagnosis, and accurate reporting of test results. And in terms of medicial experiments, the placebo effect should be used for either minor illnesses or not be used unless all other forms of treatment have been tried out first!
An article in the Gaurdian** supports this, suggesting that 88% of German doctors prescribe placebos to patients who are suffering with mild illnesses such as stomach upsets. Placebos used consist of vitamin pills, homeopathic remedies and (in some cases) even sham surgery, these placebo treatments have proved very popular with the patients, as many have believed that they have been cured. Even though the stomach upsets were not life threatening, the placebo effect is extremely benefical here as the patient then began to feel as though their health had been improved, which will have improved their sense of happiness and their day-to-day business can carry on as usual. Also, the placebo effect is beneficial as the patient felt as though they had been taken seriously by the doctor (I’m sure we have all experienced at some point going to a health professional and being shrugged off and left still feeling poorly, yet helpless lol!).
Furthermore, placebo treatment has also provided astonishing results in more severe cases. Patients have believed that certain drugs given to them by health professionals have helped alleviate pain, depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, inflammatory disorders and believe it or not… even cancer!!!
A real life example includes the case of cancer victim Mr. Wright, who had been given all the possible treatment for cancer and unfortunately was still in agonizing pain and bedridden. A placebo drug called Krebiozen was offered to Mr. Wright, who believed that the drug was a new anti-cancer treatment. Mr. Wright took the placebo and (even though his cancer had of course not disappeared) he showed a huge turn around and felt more positive about his chances of survival, his tumours had shrunk and he was diagnosed from the hospital a few days after taking the placebo.
In conclusion, I think the placebo effect is a positive thing if used appropriately. There is always going to be some sense of deceit with the placebo treatment (the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment obviously went waaaaaaay too over the top with deciving their participants) yet the effect would not be successful if the recipients were aware that the treatment wasn’t actually real. The results can be extremely beneficial to ones life style so why hate it!?