Remarkable facts about placebos

In the video below Dr Aaron Carroll talks about some of the surprising things known about the placebo effect. For example:

  • Apparent name-brand placebos are often clinically more effective than generic placebos.
  • Higher doses tend to make placebos more effective.
  • Patients who don’t miss doses of their placebos do better than those who do.

A placebo is of course a pill or other treatment with no actual clinical effect, such as a sugar pill. (The word placebo is Latin for “I please.”) As Carroll points out, even a real drug can amount to a placebo if it doesn’t have any actual curative effect. An example of this is prescribing antibiotics for viral infections. Some people claim to benefit from that and they very possibly do, but as a result of the placebo effect. That might be fine if there were no side effects and it didn’t lead to antibiotic resistance, which is a serious problem. (See this earlier post).


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