One of the remarkable discoveries in medicine in recent years is that the placebo effect is growing stronger, especially in the US. That means that dummy pills, those with no medication in them, are actually having a greater and greater effect on people, producing more positive results.

For pharmaceutical trials, this is a challenge because it’s harder to prove the effectiveness of a real drug when the placebo is that much more effective. But for patients, this might actually be a boon, because it means that placebo treatment might actually be an effective approach to treating many conditions.

But would you want your doctor to prescribe you a fake pill to treat your condition?

How Placebos Treat Pain

Central to this argument is the discovery that placebo pills, those without any actual medicine in them, can actually treat many medical conditions, using the same pathways that actual drugs do.

That’s because medicine has almost as much ritual in it as it does science, according to Harvard placebo researcher Ted Kaptchuk, who describes it as a “drama.”

The drama is build around symbols and symbolic actions, costumes and contextual clues. Performances in the roles of both patient and doctor condition us to experience benefit from a pill before we even take it.

At the center of this drama is the placebo effect, which triggers several brain mechanisms, including both conscious and subconscious psychological mechanisms, including condition of the brain.

Researchers note that the placebo effect is strongest in conditions where the central nervous system plays a major role, such as chronic pain conditions or anxiety. In these cases, research suggests that the placebo effect may work by triggering the release of brain chemicals analogous to the prescribed treatments, such as opioids generated and released by the brain.

Of course, not everyone is equally susceptible to the placebo effect, which may be related to brain chemistry and structure.

Benefits of Placebo Treatment

There are many potential benefits for placebo treatment. Perhaps the greatest is that it could allow people to get the benefits of drugs without some of the negative consequences that come with drug treatment. For example, many drugs can damage the kidneys or liver where they are processed or eliminated. This damage can ultimately be deadly, even for over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen.

But with a placebo, you could take the sugar pill or salt pill and experience no side effects to the kidneys, liver, stomach, or other part of the body. This doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be potential side effects, but like the placebo effect, they’re likely to be concentrated in the central nervous system.

Doctors Are Already Doing It

Although it is ethically controversial, it turns out that many doctors are already utilizing placebo prescriptions as part of their normal practice. A 2008 survey showed that about half of internists and rheumatologists were routinely prescribing placebo treatments. Usually, doctors don’t tell their patients that they’re placebos. Instead, they’re described as a potentially beneficial treatment that isn’t normally used for the condition.

Interestingly, many patients surveyed in 2013 were also open to the idea of placebo prescriptions. Depending on the situation, most said it was acceptable for doctors to prescribe placebos, though usually they wanted doctors to be open about it. Only about 22% said it was never acceptable for doctors to prescribe placebos.

Could Placebos Treat TMJ?

TMJ could be an ideal candidate for placebo treatment. Although there are some physical processes that play a major role in TMJ, current understanding suggests that the central nervous system plays a major role in TMJ, possibly through sensitization. This would make TMJ potentially very responsive to placebo treatment.

Studies with a related condition, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) showed that placebo treatment could work, but response was heavily dependent on particular genes. It may be similar with TMJ: many people could benefit from placebo treatment, but probably not all.

Even with the most sophisticated placebo treatment, many people will still benefit from actual treatment for their TMJ. If you’re looking for TMJ treatment in Columbia, SC, please call (803) 781-9090 today for an appointment with a TMJ dentist at Smile Columbia Dentistry.