Magical Medicine Men

Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why.

From this article, I learned that the academic definition of “the placebo effect,” as well as the use of structured clinical trials to determine the efficacy of a drug, are less than 60 years old.

Yet, the pharmaceutical industry as we know it today, mass-producing pills in carefully measured quantities, was developed in the nineteenth century. Even today, many prescription drugs are just concentrated and/or synthesized forms of “natural medicines.” Moreover, medical doctors in the US have only been professionalized (as the AMA and any state affiliate would define it) for less than 100 years. All of these factors together do not strengthen the case for medical science and the pharmaceutical industry as triumphs of the scientific method, but rather show their idolization to be examples of after-the-fact rationalization.

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3 thoughts on “Magical Medicine Men

  1. I read the article. I note that many of the drugs this applies to are for psychological problems.

    It is often said that the softer the outcome, the more blinded the study. Things like how you feel are quite soft, things like death less so. Placebos are frequently not used in cancer trials as the side-effects unmask whether or not you are taking the drug.

    It is also said that patients in trials on usual treatment may get better treatment than those outside the trial on the same treatment. A doctor I knew said if he was unwell his ideal treatment would be to get on a trial but be allocated to usual care/ placebo (as opposed to getting the trial drug).

  2. Yes, it’s obvious that the “placebo effect” is a placeholder for positive mental attitude and confidence in one’s caregivers, and this has the most significant influence in disorders where the symptoms are behavioral or clearly psychosomatic. The fact that it appears to be “increasing” in significance is a sign that we are reaching a saturation point with respect to our dependence on drugs for good health.

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