BLOCKING PAIN. Part V. The power of placebo

The power of suggestion not only generates placebo effect (“good effect”), but can also bring “bad effects” (“nocebo effects”). In one study, college students had electrodes placed on their heads and were told electrical current of low intensity will go through. Three quarters of the students developed headaches, though no current was ever generated! In another study, patients who had symptoms from a common cold were split in two groups. One group was told by their doctor that their virus is a very weak one and their symptoms will go away in 2-3 days. The other group was told that they had contracted a very potent virus and it will take weeks to recover. Guess what? The recovery in these two groups was very different, exactly as the doctor had suggested, even though both groups had the same common cold virus!

Maybe one day doctors will learn to utilize placebos to mobilize good chemicals within the patients’ body, so that they can augment good effects produced by a treatment and minimize bad ones. I am a very strong believer in the mind-body interaction. Placebos are tools we all possess and can provide us with ways to harness our individual mental and chemical powers to our own benefit!

Angela Mailis Gagnon, MD, MSc, FRCPC(PhysMed)
Director, Comprehensive Pain Program,
Senior Investigator, Krembil Neuroscience Centre
Toronto Western Hospital,
Chair ACTION Ontario

Keywords: pain, drugs, treatment