The magic of the placebo effect
A placebo is anything, including shots, pills or any other counterfeit treatment that appears real but is not. What is common to all placebos is that there is absolutely nothing about them that can treat any medical condition outside of what a person thinks it can treat. That is the magic of the placebo effect.
The use of the placebo effect can be traced way, way back in history as an integral part of cultural healing practices. The modern day story of placebos reportedly occurred during WWII originating with a nurse treating the pain of soldiers. The story goes that this nurse injected salt water into a soldier who was in pain after their supply of morphine had run out. To the nurses surprise the salt water injection not only relieved the pain but thwarted the onset of shock. The nurse was assisting a medical doctor anesthetist named, Henry Beecher. Following the war Dr. Beecher went on to establish and promote a new method for testing medications using what is now called the placebo effect.
Today, placebo studies are the preferred method in medical research particularly with medications. Most of these studies use what is called the double-blind method. In a double-blind study, one group is given the medication to be tested and another group is given a placebo. Obviously, neither group knows whether they received the test medication or the placebo. This is a simplistic interpretation of a placebo-controlled study but I believe it offers an adequate characterization of such studies.
Psychologically, placebos are considered a gullibility response not a physiological response. There are however biochemical responses occurring in our brains with placebos. Mechanisms releasing endorphins and other neurotransmitters are activated resulting in positive outcomes such as improved mood, less physical pain and more restorative sleep. Outcomes associated with the placebo effect reinforce a fundamental tenet of several psychological treatment theories asserting that how a person thinks influences feelings and behavior.
There you have it. If you think something works for you and others tell you there is no “scientific” basis for what you believe; tell them the mind is a wonderful organ and thank them for their concern.