October 2011 Archives

Do Placebos Help?

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I think that there is no definite justification for giving a patient a placebo. With placebos there is a grey area to determine what is the right coarse of action. For example, a patient suffering from constant pain due to stress or emotional instability might benefit from a placebo disguised as vicodin or oxycontin. However another patient with depression may be at risk of suicide if they are given a placebo instead of real anti-depressants.
I understand the justification in the case of the Mr. Wright, "a seriously ill cancer patient with an optimistically assessed life expectancy of about two weeks." (psyc1) However, I wonder why the placebo treatment worked better than any other treatment he received. If the placebo is meant to trick the patients mind then why didn't any of the other real treatments also have the same effect? The patient was told with each new drug that it has a chance of success, so why was it not until the placebo that the body decided to take over?
A concern with a placebo is that it doesn't cure the problem but only helps relieve the symptoms. So how does this affect depression? Depression is chemical imbalance in the brain. These chemical imbalances cause a person to feel unhappy, helpless, angry, hopelessness or frustration. Placebos seem to have an affect on some cases of depression but not all.
Another concern of placebos is the fact that they don't actually cure anything but have the potential to relieve the symptoms. This is because the mind is only tricking the body into thinking that it is getting better. When this problem is applied to the case of Mr. Wright it can be threatening to his health. The patients believe that they are getting better but really that is false.
The question that I have after looking into placebos: What proof is there to prove that placebos are worth researching over actual drugs?

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001941/
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/25/health/behavior-can-the-placebo-treat-depression-that-depends.html
http://www.psyc1.com/19_mr_wright.html

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