The Placebo Effect

Aislin Freedman, Junior

The placebo effect is a psychological phenomenon based on the premise of being given a fake medicine labeled as the real thing. A “placebo” is a medication, whether that be a pill, an injection, or even a medical procedure, that in essence isn’t anything out of the ordinary. In short, there is no medicine involved, whether the placebo effect is just water or some sort of candy shaped like a pill. Originally, the placebo effect was used to measure the effectiveness of a certain medication. Half of a test group would get the real medicine, and the other half would receive a placebo, but everyone would think they got the real medicine. If both groups experienced the same things, change or no change, the medicine was deemed to not do anything. However, more recent studies have found that the placebo effect can actually help real bodily issues, specifically ones controlled by the brain, such as pain, depression, and conditions induced by stress. 

This occurrence is still a mystery to psychologists though. There are theories on how this effect is created, but no real proven fact. Some of the theories consist of the one that the condition might’ve just disappeared on its own, like how the common cold disappears after a few days. Another theory is that, since the brain perceives that there will be a positive change, neurotransmitters are activated to abate in the bodily issue the placebo was meant to help. A third theory proposes that the action of taking a pill or getting an injection in itself is what triggers the placebo effect, as we associate such things with medicine and healing. These last two theories bring up the topic of a connection between the body and the brain that isn’t fully understood yet.

There is also a negative side to the placebo effect, called the nocebo effect. The nocebo effect is when a subject is given a placebo medication, and is not only told what the placebo will supposedly help with, but also the side effects the actual drug might induce. The nocebo effect is when the brain thinks that the body will experience those side effects, and so the subject experiences said side effects. 

There have been many studies done on the placebo effect, and many more will hopefully be done in the future, leading to discoveries in ways the placebo effect can reliably help some ailments. For now, the placebo effect remains an intriguing enigma, not fully understood, yet promising of many future discoveries.

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