Placebo: Cracking the Code

Placebo: Cracking the Code

2002, Science  -   28 Comments
Ratings: 8.63/10 from 73 users.

Featuring members of the the Harvard Placebo Study Group, "Placebo: Cracking the Code" examines the power of belief in alleviating pain, curing disease, and the healing of injuries.

The placebo effect is a pervasive, albeit misunderstood, phenomenon in medicine. In the UK, over 60% of doctors surveyed said they had prescribed placebos in regular clinical practice.

In a recent Times Magazine article, 96% of US physicians surveyed stated that they believe that placebo treatments have real therapeutic effects.

Fascinating documentary about the science and psychology of placebos, centered on a gathering of the Harvard Placebo Study Group at a remote cottage in Ireland.

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28 Comments / User Reviews

  1. suzanne petersen

    already did -where is it?

  2. suzanne petersen

    After watching this video i have come to the conclusion that placebo's are the best way to help hypocondriacs (people who think they are sick when they are not). But imagining that you can treat serious diseases with fake pills and bogus operations takes us back to the previous century when people with real ailments, some of them very serious, were treated with hostetter's stomach bitters, atkinsons rejuvanating medicine, fake operations, and whatever else, subsequently died in agonizing pain. These doctors are not giving the majority of their patients the help that these patients paid for. The whole thing seems fraudulent to me.

  3. bobby

    Man was operated on. During the operation multiple incisions were made at the knee joint relieving fluid pressure at the site. Considering all that was done, what do they mean that NOTHING was done?
    Did ya'll hear the man walking down the street say that prior to the surgery that his knee was "stiff" which caused pain?
    Plenty was done and no recognition................

  4. milly

    In Benedetti's experiment, the volunteer could have just become accustomed to the pain, and he could have built up tolerance to the shocks, which is why he felt less pain after repeated

    1. Zoilyna Pastor

      No, because if you feel the same pain right after eachother would you not say that they felt exactly the same? Yeet he said the second hurt less.

    2. The Old One

      Indeed. Saline, the injection he gave, does disrupt the transmission of pain sensations along nerves. It's an electrolyte, it sort circuits conductance. You see the same effect naturally in edema. We cam do small pperations on the skin following saline injections just as well as local anaesthetic.

  5. Berta Brass

    I do not talk to the aspirins, but I talk to my body, and it believes anything I tell it, to the point that at my 74th years, I have no wrinkles, and barely a few gray hairs.

  6. Tee

    Nonsense! indeed it's interesting and may work on some levels ( minor ones ) but proportionally it's useless.I have anxiety disorder and i'm currently taking medication; give me a placebo and i will kill you in the morning! We can not neglect the power of thinking ( positively in this case ) , but depression medications regulate chemicals in our brains like for ex ( serotonin ), which can not be replaced by a placebo.

    1. bringmeredwine

      I'm with you there, buddy!

  7. Imightberiding

    There's an interesting, maybe slightly sensational television special about the placebo effect that was made by the very talented British magician, hypnotist, illusionist & all round entertaining & funny personality: Derren Brown.

    It's easy to find on YouTube & in my opinion worth the watch if not for just the entertainment factor. He touches on the different effects that the shape & colour of pills & capsules have on the "patients".

    Now, understand that the positive effects occurred in people primarily suffering from various phobias (once again, real or imagined medical issues? . . . all psychological afflictions) who most but not all as a result of therapy via his prescribed "medication", positive interaction & affirmative coaching made profound improvements in their lives.

  8. Imightberiding

    I will speak to my own experience with medical issues & medication. I have broken my back on 3 different occasions. The term "broken back" is in itself a very generalized term & oft used incorrectly. I should specify that at no time was my spinal column severed. I crushed some vertebrae in a gymnastics accident in my late teens & again twice more in different motorcycle accidents in my 20's. With this, several discs were ruptured along with torn muscle, tendons, ligaments, knees damaged & much more wonderfully painful injuries of the internal kind.

    I have since under gone countless "procedures" to both investigate & cure. (Most of them very painful & invasive. Gotta love those spinal taps.) Several surgeries later & lots of surgical stainless steel hardware installed & throughout this time, consuming bushels of medication.

    I have attended many pain clinics, consulted countless physicians & even found myself lying naked on the floor of different living rooms of private homes while someone chanted & massaged my body with pungent smoke permeating the room.

    Years later (still in pain daily) I have come to the realization that sure, placebos can work for some people. In my pain clinic sessions, often surrounded by people afflicted with fantom pain with no real diagnosis as to the source of their problems but just the same living horribly restricted lives as a result of their conditions, I have heard countless stories of progress & relief from individuals convinced that they were ill or injured only to find out that the source of their relief was in fact a placebo. Most of these people immediately went into denial or stated that they really didn't have any relief after finding out the truth of their medication.

    Now, when someone had suffered a real (not perceived) injury or medical ailment it was always an entirely different story. I think that Waldo touched on this in his comment about the power of the mind & if we can "heal" ourselves, perhaps we can also "harm" ourselves.

    I will conclude with the fact that doctors have tried placebos on me to no result. I am of the firm belief that if an injury or illness is of a certain degree, then placebos will have no effect. Real pain, real illness requires real medication & or therapy. Please know that I am well aware of the power of the mind & it's effect on our wellness. I actually believe that mindfulness is very important in the proper or maybe best way to live.

    In the meantime, I was continually put off by the tedium & all the whining & general circle jerks that would ensue in these pain clinics with people who had never once suffered a traumatic injury or illness. Mind you, to them, their pain was a very real thing. I still struggle each day & do my best to get on with life. When you are young, you are invincible. I just turned 50 yrs old about a week & a half ago. It does not get easier as you age. I know I am still a relatively young man but with my years have come some experience with the medical field, therapies, medication & the placebo effect & the resulting effects of each.

    I guess I didn't conclude this comment earlier as I said I would. My apologies to all for the length of this comment but this is a subject very close to home for me. With this final statement I will now conclude my musings: If you have real problems you need real help. If you have imaginary problems then placebos should do the trick for you just fine. All the best & good health to all friends of TDF. That is all.

    1. wald0

      I think you are correct, to a degree. I wouldn't say they don't have real illness or injuries, only that those injuries or illnesses were not that severe. For instance I have also broken my spine, i.e. shattered/crushed vertebrae in my back, twice and had to have total reconstruction of my left knee. Placebos did not work for me either, nor did the surgeries and medications- all they did was get me addicted after several years of use. BUt the main difference between my injuries and the people that seem to respond to placebos is that the injuries they sustained did not leave their body physically unable to operate due to the laws of physics. They may have suffered pain while trying to operate correctly, but they could do it. My body would have had to somehow create whole new vertebrae and reconnect and repair tendons, muscles, veins, and nerves- its just too much to try and fix on it's own. Anyway that's my two cents- sorry to hear you are having a hard time, I know how you feel. I've tried all kinds of so called fix-its, never any pseudo science stuff, but every medically approved treatment I could afford and had access to- with no luck. I've at least gotten off the pain meds- so to speak, I take suboxone still, but not very much and I am reducing that every month. Biking has helped me considerably, as has working around the farm I live on- as long as I'm careful of what i do that is, its easy to end up in the bed for three or four days in massive pain. Anyway, best of luck to you.

    2. Imightberiding

      Thanks for your response/concern. Sorry to hear about your struggles. I wasn't intentionally discounting the physical afflictions of those suffering with various ailments (maybe just a little) who do not suffer with obvious structural or physiological changes in their bodies. It has been my experience that pretty much what you said holds true. Unless someone has actual physical abnormalities to over come, the chances of a placebo affecting change for the better are slim to none. I have known of many who have achieved successes over what might be considered hypochondria, phobias & anxiety through the wonders of placebos. To these people, the medical issues were very real. As was coincidentally the cure.

      I have been an avid cyclist my whole life but unfortunately for the past several years the forward flection involved with riding a bike combined with the physical exertion from peddling is beyond my pain threshold & capabilities. Crazily enough & incongruously, I still ride motorcycles to my doctor's chagrin. It is one of few things that still brings a smile to my face. (been riding for about 40 yrs.)

      I find aqua therapy & swimming to be a great benefit. Of course I too have struggled with dependency on countless medications over the years but curiously enough, when on the few occasions I'm not in pain, I have no need or desire to take any pain related medication. I still have a prescription for pain meds but as you also stated, I have cut back to almost no need for them as I rely on my own physicality to get on in life.

      I was always very physically active & in fairly good condition throughout my life (esp. younger years) so perhaps this has provided a lasting benefit into my middle years. Now, when I finally get past this gripping mid-life crisis I'm going through, I might just become a normal human being again?!?

      Cheers mate & I wish you the best as well.

    3. bringmeredwine

      I've had 5 major surgeries in the last 3 years.
      The absolute worst was having a kidney removed.
      There are no words to describe the agony when I woke up. (a hot-shot anesthesiologist had the bright idea of giving me an epidural while I was under, so I'd wake up feeling comfortable, and require less pain killers later)
      The epidural didn't work!!!!!
      The blood vessels in my left eye exploded and then my eye lashes turned white.
      I then barfed up all the pain meds the staff began frantically pumping into me.
      My point is (where was I?), that I had to live with the agony for days because I couldn't tolerate any pain killers.
      Maybe a placebo could have helped?

    4. Imightberiding

      At the very least I doubt that a placebo in pill form would not have upset your stomach. That is very bizarre about your eye & eyelashes? Any residual effects on your vision? Are your eyelashes still white?

      As an aside, just wondering if maybe someone brought you too much red wine & perhaps that was a contributer to the kidney ailment? That was meant as a light hearted funny question. I hope you are well these days. So many surgeries in such a short time is no joke. I wish you the best of health.

    5. bringmeredwine

      " Also Accepts White Wine."
      The blood in my eye cleared up after a couple of days; I still have a couple of white lashes now.
      I have to slow down and take it easy a whole year later, which is so annoying!

  9. CapnCanard

    Placebo... for many years I was very curious to know why it worked and finally after about 30 years of waiting some doctors are looking into it. I think the mistake is to apply objective reasoning into a technic or tactic that is subjective and seems to be capricious. But WTH, give it go it can't hurt to try. Good documentary.

    1. Sertsis

      It seems to me that the less you know about Placebo's the better. An equal dose of ignorance and faith are the cornerstones to their success.

  10. MalOdour

    If only all the money spent on wars and military equipment was spent on the Human mind and how it works we could stop war, religion, gambling, serial killers, depression etc.

    1. bringmeredwine

      I agree, way too much money is spent on the war machine.
      But all that negative stuff you mentioned is what makes us painfully human.

  11. Mercenarry ForHire

    Tha's why Coffee makes me live longer and makes me say things like "I know only what i can observe, and its only what i think i know."

    *smokes pipe* :3 i love teh placebo.

  12. Alan

    Great documentary, empowering information for all of us

  13. maddest max

    Wise doctors know that studies have shown that suppositories are a more effective placebo than tablets. "Bend over I'll cure you".

    Oh dear, my mind instantly leaps to modern politicians, LOL.

  14. CarimboHanky

    the placebo effect show how powerful our body and mind is...

    like i always say, the body is simply a great machine!

    1. rgcustomer

      Unfortunately it does backfire. If you suspect a treatment won't work, even if it's effective in other people, then it's less likely to work for you. That's not great.

  15. Ozren Škondri?

    placebo is another name for "your thoughts directly influence your biology" ...imho

    1. wald0

      Right, that is the general idea- but what we really want to know is HOW do our thoughts influence our biology. By what mechanism or process does the body repair itself and how did a thought or emotion influence that process? If a emotional state or belief brought about repair then could a emotional state or belief have brought about the damage in the first place? Its much more complicated than just our thoughts influence our biology, mystery solved.

    2. CapnCanard

      The effects work both ways, "placebo and nocebo" so be careful of what you wish for... and expect. Trying to find a pill, some surgery, heavy chemo, of an actual cure looks like a fools errand, an inhuman meat grinder that only produces guaranteed profit for the health care providers and pharma ... but sometimes it works.