News Stories

The Mysterious Placebo Effect

Researchers are so excited about the placebo effect that the NIH (National Institutes of Health) has started a special study of it. One of their discoveries is that, although it all takes place inside our brains, for some unknown reason it seems to be working BETTER than it used to. This is a subject that Anne Strieber discusses with Mark Waldman in this week's Dreamland.

From 2001 to 2006, the percentage of new products cut from development after clinical trials where they were first tested against placebo rose by 20%, meaning that the placebos were working better. Half of all potential new drugs fail in late stage trials due to their inability to beat sugar pills.

In Wired.com, Steve Silberman explains that pills of a certain color often relieve some symptoms better than the same pill in a different color, even when they contain the exact same ingredient (sugar). For instance, white pills are best for soothing stomach upsets. Yellow placebo pills relieve depression (do they remind people of sunshine?) Red pills stimulate, while green pills reduce anxiety. And more is better: Placebos taken 4 times a day work better than those taken twice a day. As might be expected, sugar pills stamped with a recognizable brand name, such as "Viagra," work better than plain ones, even if there are no actual drugs in them at all.

Researchers are now experimenting with using placebos and "real" drugs TOGETHER, to see if this makes the real thing work better. They used the placebo effect to successfully treat psoriasis patients with one quarter to one half of their usual dose of a widely used steroid medication (meaning fewer side effects). Now they want to try this on other chronic diseases that involve mental states or the immune system, including asthma, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. Using a fraction of the usual drug dose to get the same effect could also make possible a dramatic and timely reduction in healthcare costs in the future. By designing treatment regimens that mix active drugs and placebos, researchers hope to maximize drug benefits, reduce side effects, increase the number of patients who take their medicine and extend the use of drugs otherwise limited by addiction risk or toxicity. This is all part of the new science of "psychoneuro-immunology," which holds that the ability of the human immune system to fight disease is closely linked with a person's mind, in that thoughts and moods are captured in neurochemicals that cause the release of hormones which interact with disease-fighting cells.

But will the drug companies fight this? It could put them out of business. But Science Daily quotes researcher Robert Ader as saying, "I believe [the drug] industry will eventually support this approach because it promises to increase safety and reduce production costs."

In Matthew 17:20, Jesus said, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Do the Gamma Waves that are produced in the brain by spiritual activities like meditation and chanting and traditional shamanic practices like drumming and dancing increase the effectiveness of the placebo effect? Anne Strieber explains what these waves are and why the Visitors try to create them in us just for subscribers. To access this information, enter the Subscriber section, click on the Audio Section then click on Special Interviews and scroll down until you see Special Interviews Archive, then click on that. The entire archive will open and you can scroll or do a browser search for the programming you are looking for.

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Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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