According to recent studies, people increasingly consider themselves to be cured, not actually taking any medication, but only believing that they have taken it.
Before launching new drugs on the market, scientists use clinical trials to check whether they are more effective than placebo - a substance that does not have medicinal properties, the healing effect of which is determined by the patient's belief that it helps him.
The very phenomenon of such healing is called the placebo effect. The most common placebo used is lactose, and a capsule containing this substance is called a dummy.
Research has shown that the difference in efficacy between real drugs and placebos has decreased significantly over the past 25 years, especially in the United States. Does this mean that Americans are so suggestible, or is it something else?
The power of imagination
A sick Londoner at the end of the 18th century had several treatment options. For example, one could go to a small shop in Leicester Square and for five guineas buy a device consisting of a pair of sharp metal rods, which, as it were, "pulled" the disease out of the body.
This treatment was by no means cheap. The device was called "Perkins tractors" after its inventor Elisha Perkins, a self-taught physician from Connecticut. Perkins claimed to have treated George Washington himself.
The device was believed to have an effective effect on a number of diseases, such as rheumatism or various inflammations, thanks to the special alloy from which the rods were made.
However, in 1799, the renowned natural scientist John Haygart decided to test the effectiveness of the Perkins device by testing the work of the imagination in patients.
In the course of the experiment, the same rods as in the Perkins device, but made of wood, were applied to five patients suffering from chronic rheumatism.
“All but one patient assured us that the pain was gone. One felt warmth in his knee and was pleased to note that it was much easier for him to walk. Another experienced relief for nine whole hours. The pain returned when he went to bed. The third within two hours felt a tingling sensation, "- recorded in Haygart's report.
On the second day of the experiment, real Perkins rods were applied to the patients, but the effect from them was the same as from a wooden counterfeit.
"Such is the great power of imagination," concluded Haygarth.
Most often, the placebo effect occurs when people experience pain, fatigue, nausea, and depression. Brain imaging of patients taking placebo shows that areas that can control stress and pain are activated.
Brain scans showed how the placebo activated the areas responsible for stress and pain control.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires scientists to consider the placebo effect when developing new drugs. For this, in the course of any clinical trials of medicines, some participants in the process are given not a test substance, but a placebo, without warning in advance who got what.
The efficacy of the test drug is calculated by comparing the number of patients who felt an improvement in both groups. For a drug to hit the shelves, the FDA mandates that the number in the group receiving the real substance must be significantly higher than in the placebo group.
However, the ratio appears to be gradually decreasing as the placebo effect spreads to more and more people.
Scientists say that some of the most common drugs for depression today would not have been tested in clinical trials.
Pharmaceuticals in a panic
This state of affairs worries the pharmaceutical industry. A number of drugs were rejected at the stage of clinical trials, while their development cost companies more than a billion dollars.
So far, no one can answer the question of what is the secret of such an increase in the effectiveness of placebo. Perhaps the results of the latest research, published in the journal Pain, will help scientists get to the bottom of the truth.
Comparing the results of 80 different trials of drugs for neuropathic pain, scientists from McGill University in Montreal concluded that the trend was due to the Americans. It is the residents of the United States, according to research, who begin to feel better just from the fact of participating in clinical trials, regardless of whether they took a real drug or not.