Saturday, September 17, 2005

Placebos and Pain

The team asked 14 healthy male volunteers to undergo the slightly painful but harmless procedure of having saltwater injected into their jaws. Over the course of a 20-minute procedure, volunteers recorded the intensity of their pain every 15 seconds and then summarized their experience afterward. In a randomized trial, some subjects received an analgesic medication, whereas others were told they were being given medication, but received none.

According to a report published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, all of the participants who were told to expect medicine but got a placebo instead showed an increase in the activity of their endorphin system. Four brain regions were involved and activity in specific areas was also associated with the subjects' own descriptions of the pain they felt. For example, activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex correlated to how effective the volunteers were expecting the medicine to be at relieving their pain.
I have wondered why medical studies spend so much time trying to remove the placebo effect from the research, rather than researching how to get the most out of the placebo effect. So I am glad to see research going on in this direction.

How much of healing occurs because the patient believes it will occur? How much of medicine's beneficial effects are due not to the medicine itself but the placebo effect of convincing the brain it will work, and allowing the brain to release various chemicals to make it so?

Instead of looking down on the "witch doctors" we should be investigating what techniques they use to get their patients to believe them. We should see if there is a greater instance of placebo effect occurring there then in western medicine.

Maybe instead of trying to hire doctors that understand the science the best, we should be hiring doctors that can best sell the science the best. That is, those that can convince their patients that what they are doing will in fact heal them. That we should rate doctors on their ability to administer the placebo effect.

This article also shows how thoughts and brain chemistry are just two sides of the same coin. That there is a physical manifestation of thoughts. To fix problems in the brain you can use either drugs or therapy and they can have the exact same effect.

Via Scientific

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