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Posts Tagged ‘placebo Effect’

Understanding the “Placebo Effect”

by admin on: February 8th, 2011

In order to determine the validity of a “test drug??? or medication, it is necessary that a group of subjects undergo a similar set of treatments as the “test group,??? with the exception that they do not receive the “est drug or medication. Rather, these subjects (the control group) receive a placebo, which may resemble the actual test drug, but does not contain active ingredient(s). Placebos are administered in order to compare the efficacy of a drug versus the results from subjects not receiving the pharmacological treatment. However, sometimes, placebos do have an effect.

It is thought that the context of the situation (for example, being given a pill) contributes to expectations that we may feel “better” than we did previously. Why? Simply put, because we’ve felt better after taking a pill, before. Many scientists have demonstrated that placebos can relieve pain (analgesia) in subjects. Interestingly, studies have demonstrated that the pain relief produced by a placebo could, in some cases, be blocked by an opioid drug, nalaxone. Patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease (a brain disorder affecting dopamine-producing cells) have also demonstrated a “Placebo Effect.” In this study, patients were told they were receiving an anti-parkinsonian drug, but were given a placebo. Brain imaging performed after placebo administration revealed an increase in activation of dopamine-producing cells. Why?

Recent studies have postulated that a specific neural circuit involving the frontal lobe of the brain (regions involved in emotions or affect) may contribute to the “Placebo Effect.” Expectations of having relief from pain may serve as a psychological distraction from the pain, and thus we may experience less pain in the presence of a placebo. Another theory states that the placebo effect reduces feelings of anxiety, and that reduced anxiety causes a concomitant reduction in feeling pain. Thus, while gains have been made, further studies hope to elucidate these theories explaining the “Placebo Effect.”