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Placebos can work even when patients know they aren’t real

A surprising new study has revealed that individuals who are aware they are taking placebos experience the same healing effects as those who are unaware. The findings suggest that it unnecessary to lead patients to believe they are taking medicine when they are actually taking placebos, and demonstrates that placebos may be a powerful aid in treating sickness.

Researchers from Harvard University and the University of Basel recruited 160 healthy individuals between the ages of 18 and 65 for the analysis. The volunteers placed their forearms on a heated device that is intended to measure a patient’s pain tolerance level and received slight burns. They were then divided into four groups for therapy.

The first group of volunteers received no treatment. The second group was given a placebo but they were told it was a topical cream containing lidocaine, a pain reliever that numbs the skin.

The remaining two groups were given the placebo and were made aware that it was a placebo. The researchers told one of the groups, however, that the effect of the non-medicinal treatment has been proven to ease pain, depression, migraines, asthma, and even symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. This group was also told that they would experience immediate relief.

Once the topical cream was applied, members of the groups were asked to report how they were feeling. They also answered questions about the pain and discomfort they experienced from the burns.

The results of the study showed that individuals who were told they were given lidocaine had the same response to treatment as the group who knew they were given a placebo but were also were informed of its healing abilities. Members of both groups said they had less discomfort once the cream was applied to their burns.

The authors say that the study’s findings indicate that “the necessity of deception in placebo application – at least in healthy participants – needs to be reconsidered.”
The research is published in the Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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