Alernative medicine - placebos Part 1 of a documentary 'Alternative Medicine' - The Evidence [8 min 41 sec]

Alernative medicine - placebos Part 2 of a documentary 'Alternative Medicine' - The Evidence [8 min 28 sec]

How your brain can control pain How Your Brain Can Control Pain - Dr Mackey Stanford [1 min 30 sec]

Discussion on the medical effectiveness of placebos MIT Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely discusses the medical effectiveness of placebos, and outlines how expectations of a given situation will affect our experiences of that situation [6 min 03 sec]

Roundtable discussion on the 'placebo effect' A long but interesting roundtable discussion with Robert Ader, Rob DeRubeis, John Kelley, Richard Kradin, and Rosamond Rhodes [1 hr 54 min 54 sec]

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Some scientific placebo studies

There are more studies than we can sensibly list here that justify their inclusion - so what we have done is try to present a balanced view for anyone new to evaluating the subject of placebos or the ‘placebo effect’.

When looking at the scientific evidence there are some important factors that should be taken into account: who has undertaken the research and who the sponsors are (i.e. who benefits from the findings) and under what conditions were the trials undertaken, were recognised procedures used? Who has published the findings, was the size of the research sample large enough to be of statistical significance? Do the published statistical results stand up to scrutiny?

Improving athletic performances

International expert, Dr Fabrizio Benedetti, postulates that placebos can boost an athletes performance by creating the illusion that they have taken performance-enhancing drugs. The Professor has warned that the placebo effect in sport is so powerful that sporting bodies need to regulate their use. {comment - Difficult since a placebo has no banned or active ingredients that can be detected using the screening methods in use today! A placebo is a simulated treatment with no physical effect.} Dr Benedetti points to numerous studies in a range of settings and sports that have demonstrated significantly improved results in athletes who understood they were taking performance-enhancing drugs / procedures.


In 2006 a study undertaken at Canterbury University UK looked at cyclists who's performance was improved when they received placebo pills in place of the caffeine pills they thought they were receiving.

The cyclists were informed that they were receiving either a large dose of caffeine, a small dose of caffeine, or a placebo. The cyclists then undertook time trials. The group believing they had been administered the large dose increased their performance from the baseline by 3.1% whilst the cyclists who understood they had been given the small dose of caffeine improved by 1.3%. The remaining group who were told they had taken placebo performed 1.4% less than the baseline. Since all three groups received the placebo the study reflects many other studies demonstrating that placebos can improve athletic performances significantly.

Placebo effects of caffeine on cycling performance - US National Library of Medicine

Placebo pill improved sex drive in women

In a small study, 200 women diagnosed with female sexual arousal disorder were prescribed Cialis (a popular male erectile dysfunction drug) in order to determine if the drug might treat their disorder. The women agreed to engage in prescribed sexual activity over the 12 week course and keep a diary. Of the 200 women 50 were selected at random to receive a placebo in place of Cialis.

By the end of the study researchers observed that while Cialis did not improve sexual dysfunction in women significantly, 33 percent of women taking the placebo pill had their previously low level of desire restored to what is considered normal.

CNN Health - Journal of Sexual Medicine - Andrea Bradford

Placebo pill given without deception works well with IBS sufferers

It has been widely assumed that responses to placebo treatments require concealment or deception. A study conducted by Professor Ted Kaptchuk of Havard Medical School's Osher Research Centre was carried out on sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) where they were informed about the make up of the pills they were given during the study period.

"Not only did we make it absolutely clear that these pills had no active ingredient and were made from inert substances, but we actually had 'placebo' printed on the bottle," said Kaptchuk. "We told the patients that they didn't have to even believe in the placebo effect. Just take the pills."

The results demonstrated that the placebo pills were more effective at relieving symptoms compared to receiving no treatment.

"I didn't think it would work," says senior author Anthony Lembo of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an expert on IBS. "I felt awkward asking patients to literally take a placebo. But to my surprise, it seemed to work for many of them."

Scientific journal PLoS ONE - Guardian science

Placebo response in schizophrenia trials seems to be increasing

Drugs used to treat schizophrenia are known as antipsychotics. For some people, the drugs can suppress symptoms like hallucinations and delusional thinking, and allow them to live a more normal life. Studies of existing schizophrenia drugs indicate that their beneficial effects are lessening because more patients are responding to inert placebos used for comparison.

Researchers at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) looked at 32 clinical trials that were submitted to the agency between 1991 and 2008. The researchers found North American trials conducted in more recent years turned up smaller treatment effects than older studies. The trend is concerning, according to the FDA researchers, because clinical trials with big placebo responses are more likely to fail - meaning they don't show a statistically clear difference between the treated group and the placebo group.

Dr. Thomas P. Laughren, head of the FDA's division of psychiatry products says more research is needed to figure out what's really going on.

Physicians Postgraduate Press - Reuters US edition 2012

From mouse to man - Social Anxiety Disorder and The Placebo Effect

In a study conducted in 2008, social anxiety disorder sufferers were asked to engage in a stressful public speaking event. They were then "treated" for 8 weeks (with placebo) and then again asked to speak in public. 40% of the placebo-treated patients showed an improvement in their symptoms over the 8 week period.

Full study - Full study; A Link between Serotonin-Related Gene Polymorphisms, Amygdala Activity, and Placebo-Induced Relief from Social Anxiety. The Journal of Neuroscience, 2008

Most family doctors have given a placebo to at least one of their patients, survey findings suggest.

In a poll, 97% of 783 GPs admitted that they had recommended a sugar pill or a treatment with no established efficacy for the ailment their patient came in with. The PLOS One study authors say this may not be a bad thing - doctors are doing it to help, not to deceive patients.

The Royal College of GPs says there is a place for placebos in medicine. But they warn that some sham treatments may be inappropriate and could cause side effects or issues such as drug resistance.

For example, one of the placebo treatments identified in the study was antibiotics for suspected viral infections.

Dr Jeremy Howick, (co-author) University of Oxford and the University of Southampton - BBC online news article

Dummy drugs 'can relieve anxiety'

Simply taking a tablet may make people feel better - scientists say they have found that the "placebo effect" of dummy drugs can relieve anxiety as well as pain.

Swedish volunteers were shown a series of unpleasant pictures and then given an anti-anxiety drug. The test was later repeated, but with a fake drug. "The placebo changes what we expect. When we expect that something unpleasant should become less unpleasant, it really does" Dr Petrovic

The effects on calming the people's nerves were similar, the scientists told the journal Neuron. - BBC online news article

Placebo Effect May Help Treat Pain

Researchers applied heat to 15 healthy men's arms in order to gauge their pain threshold. Next, they treated the men's arms with two identical, inactive creams. But the researchers told the men that one of the creams was "an extremely effective painkiller" and that the other cream was a "control cream." Finally, the researchers applied heat to the treated areas of the arms to stimulate the sense of pain. When the men's arms were treated with the fake painkiller cream before being subjected to heat, they reported less pain than when their arms were treated with the control cream. In short, they were experiencing the placebo effect, just as the researchers had planned.

Falk Eippert - Germany's University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf. - WebMD

Disclaimer: The information concerning the use of placebos on the website are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a physician-patient relationship. Placebo World is not responsible for the content of third party websites.