The Placebo Effect

The Placebo Effect by Peter Zapfella

No doubt you have heard of something called ‘the placebo effect’, but what is it? 

In Latin the word ‘placebo’ means “I shall please”

The ‘placebo effect’ is a strange phenomenon whereby treatment for a disease or condition is affected by false information, a ‘sham’ medication, using an inert substance. Deceptive placebo’s have been used widely in the healing arts and sciences for thousand’s of years, and are still widely used today.

How many prescribed medications are actually placebo’s?

Researchers tell us that when a trusted medical authority, such as the family doctor recommends and prescribes a drug, it comes with a certain level of psychological influence. That influence has now been measured in studies at around 55 per cent effect. In other words, more than half of the beneficial effect is in the mind, not the drug itself.

Research psychologist Fredrick Evans says there are three factors involved in the placebo response. 

  • suggestion of some benefit. 
  • resulting anxiety reduction. 
  • expectancy aroused by cultural or medical beliefs. 

Evans said hypnotic responsiveness is specifically a capacity to change the patterns of mind-body communication by psychological suggestion. While the placebo response is a mind-body communication linked to a physical treatment, resulting in reduction of anxiety. This helps facilitate healing because of powerful beliefs and expectations in the treatment.

“We hypothesize that a heightened, positive sense of fascination, emotional arousal and expectation associated with a novel, brightly colored sugar pill can be just as effective as a new, mysterious therapeutic ritual introduced by a healer coming from a far away country,” said Dr Ernest Lawrence Rossi, Ph.D.

The placebo response is taking place, independent of any drugs,  at the psychological or psycho-biological level. Instead, the placebo effect is related to the perceptions and expectations of the patient; if the substance is viewed as helpful, it can heal, but, if it is viewed as harmful, it can cause negative effects.

While the effect of placebos are powerfully influenced by the perception and expectation, various factors that change the perception can increase the magnitude of the placebo response too. Studies have revealed that the colour and size of the placebo pill influences the effectiveness. “Hot-coloured” pills work better as stimulants while “cool-coloured” pills work better as depressants. Capsules rather than tablets seem to be more effective too, and size can make a difference to their placebo effectiveness.

Perhaps, without realising it, our local family doctor and pharmacist are hypnotists, although they are really only telling us what they have been told to say by the drug companies that produce this stuff.

While researching this article, I have discovered a multitude of claims where various products produced by the largest and most profitable drug companies in the world are claimed to assist people quit tobacco smoking. In every case the stated success rate was so low it could easily be explained by the placebo response.  

Everyone has seen those television advertisements for Nicotine Replacement Therapy – the patches, gum, lozenges, pills and sprays.  Yet the independent research proves beyond doubt they all have a failure rate of more than 90 per cent.

In 2003, Dr. John R. Hughes and Dr. Saul Shiffman paid consultants to GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Nicorette, Nicoderm CQ, and NiQuitin CQ, published a report entitled “A meta-analysis of the efficacy of over-the-counter nicotine replacement.” In it they reported only 1 out of 149 nicotine transdermal patch users were still not smoking six months after using the patch. (Ref:

For example, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Massachusetts studied 787 smokers who tried to quit and found the use of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (patches, gum, lozenges, pills and sprays) had no effect upon their success at all.

Since their introduction in the early 1980’s widespread use of NRT products have failed to improve quit smoking rates at all. I have interviewed thousands of people, face-to-face who are motivated to quit tobacco smoking, and have tried these products without success. 

In his book “The only way to stop smoking permanently” (Penguin Books), the late Allen Carr (who died from lung cancer) said the only way nicotine transdermal patches can work is if a smoker put’s one nicotine patch over each eye, so they cannot find their cigarettes. I think he was right.

So why do they keep advertising these products on TV, claiming miraculous success rates if they do not work? I asked the government advertising watchdog. They said, and I quote here what they said to my face. “Oh. Well. We do allow them a certain amount of ‘fluff’.” What is ‘fluff’? I think it is a polite word meaning ‘bull-shit’.

Like the tobacco companies, drug companies are some of the most profitable, and influential in the world. Truth is, they ‘own’ politicians through campaign funding. The drug companies have huge advertising and promotional budgets. They focus spending upon their sales staff, by conducting regular medical conferences where medical doctors, your local GP’s are indoctrinated and trained to ‘sell’ particular drugs to their patientsEach year over 300,000 such meetings take place in the USA alone. They also dress up drug promotions through media releases as news items. We see them from time-to-time on the nightly news claiming to be a ‘medical break-through’ when in fact they are nothing new at all. Media are complicit in this fraud because they depend upon the advertising revenue from these companies. Any news to the contrary, such as this article is quickly hidden and buried for fear of upsetting the hands that feed them.

While there are many others, let us look at the Lexapro and Celexa. (The patent for Celexa (citalopram) ran out in 2003, therefore opening it to generic competition. So it’s manufacturer took the so called ‘active ingredient’ found in Celexa, and created the enantiopure drug escitalopram, and marketed it as a new ‘wonder drug’ they called Lexapro.)

“…Federal prosecutors alleged that former top executives at Forest concealed for several years a clinical study that showed that the drugs were not effective in children and might even pose risks to them, including causing some to become suicidal.

From 2001 to 2004, Forest heavily promoted results from another clinical trial it had financed that showed that the drugs were effective, without disclosing the negative study to those researchers, its own medical advisers or its sales representatives, the complaint said.”

Venlafaxine hydrochloride, was marketed as Effexor among other names.

 As a drug to treat major depressive disorder (MDD), generalized anxiety disorder(GAD), panic disorder, and social phobia. Common side effects include loss of appetite, constipation, dry mouth, dizziness, sweating, and sexual problems. Severe side effects include an increased risk of suicidemania, and serotonin syndrome. Use during the later part of pregnancy could harm the baby. It is also addictive, causing certain withdrawal symptoms such as “electric shock” sensations (also known as “brain shivers” or “brain zaps”), dizziness, acute depression and irritability, as well as heightened senses of akathisia.

Studies show that about one in three people who suffer from depression do not respond to medication at all. Of those that use these drugs, they take weeks and sometimes months before they notice any positive effect at all. Most sufferers never try alternative treatments, including psychotherapy and hypnotherapy, although they have been proven effective, side-effect free and drug free.

The same vast amount of money which is wasted on drug treatments (and government subsidies, such as the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)) could be spent better on health education and prevention schemes. Instead, the Big Pharmaceutical companies have been allowed to defraud the general public, with the support of corrupt politicians and so called ‘medical authorities’, who have been protecting their own pockets at the expense of untold millions of people.

We should all be outraged.

  • Copyright © 2014-20 Peter

References:, F. Psychiatry: Areas of promise and advancement (pp215-228) New York, Spectrum) (1977) & Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 17, 72-76 (1981).Ernest Lawrence Rossi, Ph.D. Rossi, E. In Search of a Deep Psychobiology of Hypnosis: Visionary Hypotheses for a New Millennium.  American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, (2000).  42:3/42:4, 178-207). ‘The Cutting Edge; selling sickness’ SBS TV Australia. Tuesday 5 October 2004.

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