Tag Archives: placebo


bxp37970OBELCALP is PLACEBO spelled backwards, and is ‘code’ for a prescription of a sugar pill when submitted to the pharmacist; tricky but transparent, you might say, but it is tricky enough that actually most pharmacists no longer recognize the trick.

The use of placebos is generally discouraged among physicians as it promotes a  skepticism among patients about the truthfulness of their doctor, and can have them wondering if they are being taken for a ride.

With this in mind, a recent article reviewing the behavior or British physicians found that 12% of them had used a pure placebo in the past.   Bold-faced prescribing of sugar pills is a bit of a surprise, but beyond the ‘pure’ placebo prescribing, more interesting is the use of ‘impure’ placebos; medications that are active, but not meant to meaningfully treat a defined condition, rather to act as a treatment to encourage the patient to see the intervention as helpful.  This type of impure placebo use was done by 97% of the British physicians.


There is a fascinating article in the Sunday NY Times today about a little know doppleganger to the placebo effect….and it’s called the NOCEBO effect.
In the placebo effect, the power of positive suggestion can make an inert medication have beneficial effects, but the contra-effect is also possible; by negative suggestion, we can see negative effects occur.
I found this idea fascinating as it encompasses the issue with all of the warnings portrayed in medication advertisements on TV. After the commercial touts all of the potential benefits of the medication, the manufacturer is required to mention all of the negative effects to be aware of, thus negating the potential benefits of ‘positive thinking.’ This is similarly seen in the warning material provided now with every prescription we receive at the pharmacy. I often tell people that the list of warnings they are handed would scare me off of taking medication too….that’s why I don’t read them!
Henny Youngman is quoted as saying……”When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up READING!” I agree.

Let’s keep our perspective in the positive people. It can make the biggest difference in our health.