A healthy mind – sugar pill or placebo anyone?

A healthy mind – sugar pill or placebo anyone?


A UK survey conducted online to 783 doctors has shown that many of them are willing to prescribe placebos (”sugar pills”).

The findings show that the doctors feel that prescribing sugar pills can help patients psychologically in their well-being.

Of those that responded 97% said they had used treatments that did not have any therapeutic significance for the condition prescribed, for example antibiotics for the common cold or a possible virus.

50% of the doctors who prescribed pure placebos told the patients that this sort of therapy had helped a lot of other patients. A quarter told patients that the treatment was a help to self-healing. Only one in ten actually told the patient that the prescribed treatment was a placebo.

The research revealed that 12% of the respondents had prescribed “sugar pills” (pure placebos) or saline injections without any clinically active ingredients.

33% of the doctors felt that this procedure was never acceptable and two out of three believed it was ethically acceptable under certain circumstances.

Blood tests and unnecessary examinations are also included as impure placebos.

However, the research did show that usually the doctors were using placebos with the best of intentions to help the patients.

Dr Jeremy Howick of Oxford University and one of the lead researchers said, “The placebo effect works by releasing our body’s own natural painkillers into our nervous system. In my opinion the stigma attached to placebo use is irrational, and further investigation is needed to develop ethical, cost-effective placebos.”

But the widespread feeling is that the prescription of placebos is basically unethical.


A healthy mind – sugar pill or placebo anyone?

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