“Honest” Placebos Effective in Treating Health Problems


From TIME: “The medical community has been aware of the placebo effect–the phenomenon in which a nontherapeutic treatment (like a sham pill) improves a patient’s physical condition–for centuries. But Ted Kaptchuk, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and one of the leading researchers on the placebo effect, wanted to take his research further. He was tired of letting the people in his studies think they were taking a real therapy and then watching what happened. Instead, he wondered, what if he was honest? His Harvard colleagues told Kaptchuk he was crazy, that letting people in a clinical trial know they were taking a placebo would defeat the purpose. Nevertheless, in 2009 the university’s teaching hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, launched the first open-label placebo, or so-called honest placebo, trial to date, starting with people who had IBS, including Buonanno.


  1. This is really quite interesting. An honest placebo is as good as “proper” IBS drugs. What’s going on? It has to be the doctor relationship that is driving the healing effect, doesn’t it?

    In mental health, the psychiatrist has huge influence with the patient that could in the right context help people improve in and of itself. The shame is that they deal out damaging drugs at the same time, probably in part because they think the drugs placebo effect might help. Indeed it might, but increasingly people are wising up to the harms and the dishonesty, and this probably negates the curative value of this smoke and mirrors. If psychiatrists were more honest and open to suggestion beyond medication, they could achieve alot. But first they have to do no harm.

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