The Placebo Effect

A wise Chinese medical doctor friend of mine made a fascinating point during a dinner conversation the other day.

He said that if medicines and medical interventions were ranked according to their effectiveness, cost, invasiveness and side effects – the most effective, least costly, invasive and disruptive being the best – then placebos which produce positive healing outcomes would consistently outrank all other medicine because they are free and harmless.

He went on to argue that Western medicine always throws out the placebos, arguing that they are “shams”, whether they work or not. This, of course, is foolish if the goal in medical research is to find efficacious and cost effective solutions that first do no harm.

8 thoughts on “The Placebo Effect

  1. Zach

    It always amazes me how much more western medicine approves of a drug that has an immediate and measurable affect regardless of side effect over a drug that might be more subtle with a less obvious effect, yet a low incidence of side effect.
    Everything does not have to wait until it is a medical emergency that requires a severe intervention. While I appreciate these technologies and medicinal techniques when they are required, I believe they are heavily overused in our medical system.
    The point made about placebo is excellent and pertinent. Medical intervention should be personal enough that we can see and understand our issues before they are emergencies, trying the less invasive therapies before the more severe ones are necessary.


  2. Strawberryfield

    Until placebos can be shown to have a positive economic effect they’ll most likely continue to be derided. The economic decision is currently made in favor of the the pharmaceutical conglomerate. If we made this decision in favor of the public’s welfare I think solutions would be gauged by a new set of standards opening up a wider set of options with the greatest weight given to “first do no harm”. Great post!!


  3. Pingback: The Placebo Effect | Dr. Steve Ventola

  4. Ricardo B.

    I think placebos just go to show how much influence one’s state of mind has on the overall outcome. This doesn’t sit well in our objectified paradigm, where cause and effect work solely on the basis of rather mechanistic means. Objective data is more likely to be reproduced and thus trusted – you get the same result from X intervention. However, this really isn’t even the case many times, especially when considering the various psychiatric medications in use today.
    It doesn’t seem that we can escape the subjective influence of the individual, where the mental and emotional powers come to bear upon the ‘physical’ result, try as we may to exclude them. As a practitioner myself, I have witnessed great change come as a result of faith and hope being restored. How can you quantify that? You can’t really, but you sure can see the result. The placebo effect to me simply gives evidence of the composite structure of man – not just the physical is at work with its easier to detect measures, but other much more qualitative influences too that are more difficult to isolate and quantify. These cannot be excluded lest we somehow turn into primitive robots.


    1. Steve Ventola

      Very interesting point Greg has brought up with your elaborating comments. It is good to acknowedge the seemingly intangible in healing. Our thoughts and feelings and perspective really are tangible things that as yet cannot be satisfactorily quantified by medical standards. Our consideration continues to lend itself to the healing of medicine and healthcare.


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