The Point of Placebos

The Point of Placebos

Cyrus Ghavami, SPN Reporter

What is a Placebo? A placebo is nothing more than an inactive substance, used to satisfy a patient’s demand for medicine.

But have you ever stopped to wonder what implementations  a placebo actually has in the medical field? How does medicine, that isn’t medicine, help people? And why do people have a demand for medicine when they aren’t really sick?

Let’s start with the question as to why some people may want to medicine, when they aren’t really sick.  It comes down to a neurological disorder known as Munchausen syndrome.

Patients with Munchausen displays symptoms of repeated fabrications of illness. They are usually dramatic and convincing as they wander from hospital to hospital trying to seek treatment for a factitious disease that they don’t have. This is where a placebo would come into play.

According to the Merck manual, “successful treatment is rare”, in Munchausen patients. Refusal to meet treatment demands or confrontation results in angry reactions, and the patient generally moves on to another hospital. When psychiatric help is offered, it is usually refused or circumvented.

According to a nine year study, done on Munchausen treatment, provided by the U.S. library of medicine, when the patient was given a placebo; there was an improvement in the symptoms that the patient thought she had. The doctors then offered psychiatric consulting which she accepted as well. For the most part, the placebo had the patient convinced. However, on her second day of therapy, the patient rejected the diagnoses and left.

Going back to the whole point of a placebo, in this case, the placebo worked at first because the patient believed that it was working, so the symptoms of the Munchausen began to disappear. It was a psychologic problem solver of sorts.

With having very little success with one Munchausen patient, is this drug still a viable treatment for other patients? What about those who struggle with drug abuse?

While physical dependence on drugs relies on the feelings that the drug gives to the addict, a psychological dependence on drugs has to do with the feelings of satisfaction and a desire to want to continue to take the drugs, in order to avoid discomfort or even produce pleasure. Where does the placebo fit in?  The placebo could take the place of the actual drug, assuming it’s nothing stronger than an average pain killer. The patient would no longer have to risk damaging their liver and could potentially seek treatment later on in life. The placebo would take fulfill the patient’s request to be treated. It would fulfill the need to take medication.