is the most common reason humans seek medical attention. According to the
Association for the Study of Pain, it is an ‘unpleasant sensory and emotional
experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage” (1)
body contains specialized nerves that detect changes in temperature, chemical
balance or pressure that can potentially cause harm. These ‘danger detectors’,
or nociceptors as they are called in science, send alerts to the brain, but
they cannot send pain to the brain because all pain is created by the brain
does not come from a broken bone, or an open wound. Pain is the result of the
brain evaluating danger data from the danger detection system, cognitive data
such as expectations previous exposure, cultural and social norms and believes,
and other sensory data such as what we see, hear or otherwise sense. The brain
produces pain based on the incoming data and stored information and sends a
signal with pain to the place it should hurt. With this knowledge, scientists
can say that all of our pain is generated by the brain. When a person believes
they will get better, they do get better. This is referred to as the placebo
Placebo is a substance which can be in form of a pill, a injection or in rare
cases even surgery, that has no therapeutic or physiological effect on ones
health. Placebos are often used to test new drugs as a control group. A placebo can be anything
that seems to be a real medical treatment – but is not. When a person has a
positive response to a placebo, it is called a placebo effect. This means that
when a person takes a placebo and their health improves, they had a positive
response. Up to this day, Scientists are still unsure how the placebo effect
works, and it is, scientifically speaking , still a mystery. One of the most
common theories is that the placebo effect is due to a person’s expectations.
If a person expects the fake medical treatment to work, then it is possible
that the bodies own chemistry can cause effects similar to what a medication
might have caused, even though the fake medication has nothing in it that would
cause such thing.
placebo effect baffles patients and doctors, and frustrates drug developers. In
recent years, the number of positive placebo responders has increased, possibly
because their believes and expectations of improvement in medicine have risen.
history of the placebo effect goes back to 1946, when Henry Beecher was
stationed at a hospital during world war 2. While treating wounded soldiers, he
ran out of morpheme, a medicine that is known for its incredibly strong pain
relieve. Instead of telling his patients that they had no more morpheme, he
injected them with a saline solution and told them it was a painkiller. To his
astonishment, 70% of the wounded soldiers stated that the placebo painkiller
worked, even though there was nothing in the saline solution that would have
made that possible. As of today, scientists are still astonished about the
power that is behind the placebo effect as there seems to be no clear answer as
to why a patient’s body can produce the same effects as real medication. But
new studies of neuroscience have delivered some key factors that may help
answering this question.
placebo effect is so powerful, that even when people know they are given a
placebo, it works.
Ted J. Kaptchuk, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, has been
studying the effects of placebo for more than 20 years. Most recently, he has
conducted studies of ‘open label placebos’, where the test subjects are well
aware that what they are taking is not real medication. In one study, Kaptchuk
looked at people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common condition that
causes abdominal cramping and diarrhea or constipation that can be debilitating
for many. Half of the study volunteers were told they were getting an
“open-label” placebo and the others got nothing at all. He found that there was
a dramatic and significant improvement in the placebo group’s IBS symptoms,
even though they were explicitly told they were getting a placebo pill without
any medication that would give them relieve. Kaptchuk says placebos will not
work for every medical situation. For example does he believe that it will not
lower cholesterol levels or cure diabetes. But placebos can work for conditions
that are defined by “self-observation” symptoms like pain, nausea, or fatigue.(Harv.
have been carried out on placebos not only to reduce pain, but also in hopes to
treat mental disorders such as Bipolar disorder or depressions. In recent years
the number of prescribed pills to treat those conditions have almost doubled.
This is because they seemingly work and give relieve to the patients suffering.
However, several high profile studies are showing that placebos basically do the same thing as the prescribed medication except that they do not have as
many side effects. Although doctors are well aware that placebo effect works to
treat depression just as well as pills such as Xanax, they still do not use
placebo. Instead, they prescribe medications people don’t need, as they can
actually help themselves by simply believing it. These findings are being
downplayed by major pharmaceutical companies who would lose out on billions of dollars of profit if antidepressants become less popular. On the other
hand, this is very promising news for those who suffer from mental illness
because it shows that these things are occurring in our heads and are
reversible without the help of any chemicals with potentially dangerous side
take comfort in the routine of going to the doctor, being examined, going to
the pharmacy and getting pills to take in order to feel better. They expect
medication to cure them, and over time, this expectation has become even more
pronounced as the faith in science has strengthened. In the middle ages there
would have been very little reason to have faith in the medical procedures, as
they killed most people. But today, as medicinal abilities become perpetually
more advanced, the impetus to have faith in drugs will continue to grow. With
this, the placebo effect will simultaneously grow. Now the question still
remains: Are drugs really necessary in medicine, or can placebo pills be used
to treat patients just as well as real medication would?
known that in recent years, the amount of antidepressants has increased, and so
have the side effects. Internal bleeding, suicidal thoughts, pain, nausea and
allergic reactions are If placebos can be used in order to help a person become
better, it would resolve the problem of having side effects. However, some
think that placebos should not be used in medicine for ethical reasons.
for a doctor to give a patient a placebo” says Dr.
Harriet Hall, a
retired family physician who writes critically about alternative and complementary
approaches to medical care. “It involves deception,” she emphasizes,
“Lying is wrong, and if doctors start lying to patients, it destroys the
trust. And that’s a bad thing.” (2)
this experiment, I will investigate how the placebo effect can impact people
and if the results show a statistical difference, using the T-Test. For this, I
will ask 20 volunteers to participate in an experiment to measure if placebo
pills can reduce their pain, or if it won’t affect them at all. I will use
trustworthy sources from institutions that performed experiments on many
volunteers to gather information on the web. With this, I hope to answer the
question: “Can placebos be used as medication?” at the end of the
investigation, compare case study results with my own and draw a conclusion to
our body produces its own pain relief is known, but why it is so strong is
still mystery. Endorphins are among the brain chemicals known as
neurotransmitters, which function to transmit electrical signals within the
nervous system. There are at least 20 different types of endorphins that are present
in humans, and they can all be found in the pituitary gland or other parts of
the brain and nervous system. Stress and pain are the two most common factors
leading to the release of endorphins. Endorphins interact with the opiate
receptors in the brain and reduce our perception of pain and act similarly to
drugs such as morphine and codeine.
experiment serves the purpose to collect primary data in order to investigate
the research question, as to if the placebo effect can replace real medication
when it comes to pain relief. This experiment will use 20 volunteers to put
their hand in ice cold water as this will not cause any permanent damage, but
will expose the volunteers to pain. The volunteers will be asked to put their hand
in cold water twice without a placebo to see if there is a difference in time.
This is done to rule out any factors that could have impacted the results.
Then, the volunteers will be given a placebo painkiller, believing it is an
actual form of painkiller and the time they can hold their hand in cold water
will be measured again.
method however has some limitations, as every person has a different pain
tolerance, so the results could have a lot of variation, making it difficult to
investigate if there is a statistical difference. As well, the water cannot be
kept at the same temperature all the time, as the body temperature from the
hand will warm up the water.
independent variable for this investigation will be the placebo pills the
volunteers are going to take, as they will determine whether placebo effect
takes place or not.
independent variable for this investigation will be the time volunteers can
hold their hands in ice cold water in seconds
control variable is the temperature of water in the beginning of the experiment
(in Celsius) as well as the amount of placebo pills per person.