Placebos Work, Even When Taken Knowingly

New study shows patients experience less pain when knowingly taking placebos with their normal treatment.

Placebo Effect
Placebo Effect

A November 4th HospiMedica article added a strange twist to the placebo effect: it doesn’t have to be a secret to work. Researchers at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that patients who knowingly took a placebo in addition to standard treatment experienced less pain than patients who received the treatment alone.

Prior to the study, patients with persistent low back pain were given a 15-minute explanation of the placebo effect. Half of the patients were then given treatment as usual (TAU), while the other half received an open-label placebo (OLP) clearly marked “placebo pills” in addition to their normal treatment. Patients were then asked to assess their pain based on a three-tier scale: minimum pain, maximum pain, or usual pain.

The TAU group reported a 9% reduction in usual pain and 16% reduction in maximum pain, while the OLP group experienced a 30% reduction in both, and a 29% decline in pain-related disability. The data suggest the patients don’t need to believe they’re taking an active medication in order to experience the placebo effect.

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