“…prescribing placebos… usually relies on some degree of patient deception” and “prescribing pure placebos is bad medicine. Their effect is unreliable and unpredictable and cannot form the sole basis of any treatment on the NHS.”
Yes, it’s time for a lesson in the placebo effect, an umbrella term encompassing various effects that cause patients to reinterpret their illness or symptoms.
This generic term is usually viewed under the guise of a Pavlov’s dogs level conditioning process, wherein instead of dogs salivating at the ringing of a bell associated with food, patients are conditioned by a doctor’s positive attitude and the knowledge that pills are given to improve health when we’re ill, causing a psychological belief that we are indeed feeling better.
There is also a short burst of endorphins associated with this kind of conditioning, these painkillers will cause euphoria and also do what they say on the tin, but only for a very short while. Large pills and coloured pills also potentially work better than small or white pills.
The placebo effect is present in all treatments in some form, and its effects of stress and anxiety relief when working medicine is taken may actually help the fight against illness, however, since this effect is already present when medication is taken, nothing needs to be added to create this aid.
The positive sides of placebo are all well and good, but the same mechanisms that cause the upsides can create the opposite effects, such as with the Nocebo effect.
This occurs when a patient believes they will get negative side effects from an ineffective treatment, leading them to perceive negative effects, however, the implications of this in real life are rare, as bogus therapies generally would not actively seek to give the bad sides of their treatments as with conventional medicine.
The positive outlook of this effect however, does not lessen the spread of disease, and the belief that there is something working to stop an illness may prevent the patient’s ability to recognise symptoms, leading to late diagnoses and a possible increase in the overall harm an illness can cause.