Placebos, also called “sugar pills,” might be fake medications — but that doesn’t mean they don’t work.
Harvard placebo researcher Ted Kaptchuk credits the “drama,” or ritual, of medication with their effect on both the conscious and subconscious mechanisms of the brain. The benefits are undeniable for those who are susceptible to the placebo effect. While other medications may create dependency or liver or kidney damage, placebos will not.
Placebos Offer Migraine Treatment Alternative
A recent study on children who suffer from migraines was intended to determine the effectiveness of two prescription drugs. Happily, both drugs were effective in cutting the frequency of migraines in half. But scientists also learned something unexpected: The placebo sugar pills administered to their control group worked just as well, and had fewer side effects.
It can be shocking to realize that we may be treating migraines with medication that is no more effective than a sugar pill, and yet puts us at risk of dangerous side effects. And when it comes to our children, we’re even more concerned about the potential dangers of prescription medication.
But to the scientific community at large, this shouldn’t come as much of a shock. After all, the placebo effect has been increasing in the United States over the last few decades. In fact, placebos have become so effective that nearly half of doctors are already prescribing them with regularity!
Do Placebos Have to be Concealed?
Unsurprisingly, there are people who are not pleased to hear that their doctors are prescribing them fake medications. A 2013 survey found that many wanted their doctors be honest with them about placebos, and more than 20% of those surveyed said they didn’t want their doctor prescribing placebos at all.
One common assumption is that a placebo only works because the patient believes they are taking a real medication — that the power of their belief is what actually causes the improvement, rather than the pill itself. This would imply that doctors being upfront with their patients about placebo treatments would defeat the purpose.
However, a recent study has shown that this is not true. Two groups of patients with chronic back pain were given the same placebo pills. One group knew the pills were fake, and the other did not. The group knowingly taking placebos saw a 30% higher pain reduction than those unknowingly taking them. They even saw a 29% drop in pain-related disability, which the other group didn’t experience at all. This means that not only does knowledge of placebos not hinder the effect, it actually aids it.
If you suffer from TMJ, a placebo may not be enough to solve the problem — but it could absolutely be a part of an effective treatment plan when paired with other TMJ treatments. In fact, for people with a high level of central sensitization as part of their TMJ, a placebo might actually be an ideal treatment and may help people whose symptoms persist after functional problems have been treated.