Placebo-effect of medication

Alternative medicines work largely on the basis of their placebo effect. Regular medicines too. Classically, it is assumed that the real placebo effect (apart from the natural evolution of disease) amounts to an average of 40-60% of the overall effectiveness of regular medicine. Modern studies often point to even larger percentages: 80% and more! (M. Enserink ‘Can the placebo be the cure?’ Science 284: 238-240, 1999)

A domain in which this placebo effect is reflected again and again, is formed by the clinical (double blind) studies that are needed to register a drug. Again and again the placebo effect is amply reflected in this. One can say that this makes it the most studied and scientifically proven health-related phenomenon that exists. So also the relatively most neglected one...

At least a large part of the true placebo effect is due to suggestion: belief in recovery, belief in the remedy, the 'meaning' of the drug to the patient’s subconscious. However, the placebo effect is not an interesting kind of suggestion. It is untrue in the first place, because it is based on a belief without substance. If someone gets a pure placebo, it works only if that person erroneously believes that he is being helped by it. Take away this erroneous belief and the effect disappears. This is clear in the case of a pure placebo. The same mechanism is also applicable to a partial placebo.

Moreover, a placebo works only superficially, i.e. purely symptomatically. A symptom is removed without attention to underlying issues. With psychosomatic symptoms there is much underlying. In view of the base of falsehood, it is impossible to reach whatever is underlying with the use of a placebo agent. The doors to it remain closed.

Placebo leads to dependence. Without placebo agent, there is obviously no placebo effect thereof. If one discontinues the placebo agent, then the effect has gone. This is very important in chronic medication for psychosomatic problems. Patients become dependent on their medication while their problem gets bigger and an effective solution becomes increasingly difficult.

Placebo has a bad name because it is based on deception. Pursuit of truth is of great value to society also in the field of health and healing. A truth-based medicine makes individuals, and thus society itself, 'better' in all respects. It is indeed pointless to draw a dividing line between psychosomatics and phenomena as depression, chronic anxiety or aggression in general. Aggression for example, shows itself individually, but also collectively. Great thinkers have already warned for this: wars occur primarily within individuals and more specifically also within the 'ordinary man in the street’. If this ordinary man in relation to his own psychosomatic symptoms is always driven towards an aggressive stance, this has the most far-reaching consequences.