Let's just say you're not the first to think of doing this by mattsteinglass

Ezra Klein – The Ethics of Placebos .

Ezra Klein wonders why, given powerful evidence of the effectiveness of the placebo effect, doctors don’t figure out a way to use it:

There are no end of situations that might lend themselves to placebo treatments: patients demanding an antibiotic when they have the flu, or painkillers when they have nothing but unspecific aches. The placebo could do the patient some good and avoid them some potential bad (side-effects, antibiotic resistance, etc). This is, of course, unethical, not to mention an invitation to some serious lawsuits, not to mention ineffective once word gets out. But the evidence in favor of the placebo effect is really quite tremendous: It’s hard not to wonder if there’s notsome way to marshal that cheap, safe power.

Yeah, could that cheap, safe power be marshaled? Might it be possible? Or are “could” and “might” the operative words here? Would it be unethical for me to say any more?


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In fact, doctors *often* prescribe placebos, and there’s a tremendous amount of new research into the mechanisms of the placebo effect and how they could be leveraged for healing. I have a major feature in the new issue of Wired about that, and about the challenges that drug companies are facing in coming up with new drugs (particularly for depression, chronic pain, and other disorders) that can beat the placebo effect in clinical trials. You might enjoy it:

The Placebo Problem


Comment by stevesilberman

Yeah, that’s what I was sort of trying to suggest in the post–that docs already do this, but obviously one doesn’t want to talk about it too much. I’d love to read your piece when I get a chance.

Comment by Matt Steinglass

In a class I took in medical school, it was suggested that doctors could post a sign in the waiting room stating, “Some of the treatments prescribed for you may be sugar pills” thereby constituting informed consent.

More scientifically, there are data to suggest that a treatment may be more effective if the physician presents it with confidence in the effect. Thereby creating some “placebo effect.”

Comment by joannasmd

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