A placebo is a pharmacologically inert substance that is used as a control in clinical trials. Placebos range from working anywhere between 10% to 100%. The placebo is capable of causing positive health effects on certain sick individuals—especially if they do not know that they are receiving an inert substance (eg. water, sugar) and believe it is a real medication. This has long been known to the medical community, but Ted Kaptchuk, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and one of the leading researchers on the placebo effect, wanted to take his research one step further. He thought, what if instead of deceiving people to the fact that they were taking a medicine, he actually told them the truth? And so he launched the first open-label placebo or so-called honest placebo trial.
The first study was conducted on people with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). The result was that compared to the people who received no treatment, nearly twice as many people in the trial who knowingly received the placebo pills reported experiencing symptom relief. Not only that, but the men and women who took the placebo doubled their rate of improvement, equaling the effects of two IBS medications commonly used. “I was entirely confused,” says Kaptchuk. “I had hoped it would happen, but it still defies common wisdom.”
When it comes to taking placebos, a certain number of people will accept, believe, and surrender to the thought of being healed or feeling relief from their symptoms without any analysis. As they do this, they begin to program their autonomic nervous system to create the exact pharmacy of chemicals equal to the substance or treatment they think they are receiving. This begs the questions: Is it the inert substance that’s doing the healing? Or is it the body’s innate capacity to heal by thought alone?
This research is actually showing that people can knowingly take a placebo and experience positive effects without even thinking that it will or will not work. A certain number of people will simply respond to the inert substance with the knowing that there’s no active ingredient in it. The body has the capacity to heal by thought alone✨