Can Placebos Be Effective Even If We Know It’s Not a ‘Real’ Drug?

pain relief placebos

Darwin A. Guevarra, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow
Michigan State University

PainRelief.com:  What is the background for this study?  What are the main findings?

Response: Placebos are these inactive treatments that often work because people believe they are taking a real treatment. For the most part, they have real beneficial effects. However, there’s a utility-ethical issue when it comes to placebos. On one hand, they reliably work in managing daily nonclinical nuisance like emotional distress and even a host of clinical ailments like pain and depression. But, it seems like you have to lie to people that they’re taking a real treatment in order to get placebos to work. As it turns out though, there’s over a dozen studies showing that placebos can still work even when people are fully aware they are taking them. These studies educate participants about the placebo effects, how they work, and how they can probably still work even when people know they are taking one. This really opens up the possibility of ethically harnessing the beneficial effects of placebos. But there’s one glaring issue. These studies that found positive effects of non-deceptive placebos only show it with self-report and no studies show beneficial effects on biological measures. This casts some doubt on whether these self-reported beneficial effects are real.

Our study wanted to test if we can observe non-deceptive placebo effects on objective biological markers. In this case, we used a neural measure called the late positive potential that can track emotional distress. We find that non-deceptive placebos do reduce self-reported, but more importantly, neural measures of emotional distress.

Study Evaluates Inhaled Cannabis for Pain Relief from Headache and Migraine

PainRelief.com Interview with:
Carrie Cuttler, Ph.D.
Assistant ProfessorWashington State University
Department of Psychology
Pullman, WA, 99164-4820

PainRelief.com:  What is the background for this study?

Response: Many people report using cannabis for headache and migraine and claim that it is effective in reducing their symptoms. However, to date there has only been one clinical trial examining the effectiveness of a cannabinoid drug called Nabilone (synthetic THC that is orally administered) on headache. The results of that trial indicated that Nabilone was more effective than ibuprofen in reducing pain and increasing quality of life. There have also been a couple of preclinical (animal) studies suggesting that cannabinoids like THC may be beneficial in the treatment of migraine. But there are surprisingly few studies examining the effectiveness of cannabis, particularly whole plant cannabis rather than synthetic cannabinoids on headache and migraine.

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Three Genes Linked To Chronic Back Pain

PainRelief.com Interview with:
"Back Pain" by betterhealthosteopathy is licensed under CC PDM 3.0cDr. Frances MK Williams PhD

Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology
Division of Genetics & Molecular Medicine
Reader, King’s College London
Honorary Consultant in Rheumatology
Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

PainRelief.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: This study was led by scientists at King’s College London and the University of Washington. It has identified three new genes associated with the development of chronic back pain.

The findings, which are published in PLOS Genetics, could pave the way for the creation of more effective treatments for the condition, the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Part funded by the European Union, the research project focussed on understanding why in most people an episode of back pain gets better, while in around 20% of people it can persist for many months – chronic back pain is defined as pain that persists for more than three months.

To better understand the origins of the chronic condition, researchers conducted a genome-wide association meta-analysis (GWAS) of chronic back pain studies comprising a total of 440,000 individuals. The average age of the study’s participants ranged from 50 to 76 years, and the genders were approximately balanced.  Continue reading