29 August 2009

Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches...

Freakonomics points to this Wired article by Steve Silberman regarding the increasing effectiveness of placebos in drug trials.

This paragraph struck me:

Existing tests also may not be appropriate for diagnosing disorders like social anxiety and premenstrual dysphoria—the very types of chronic, fuzzily defined conditions that the drug industry started targeting in the '90s, when the placebo problem began escalating. The neurological foundation of these illnesses is still being debated, making it even harder for drug companies to come up with effective treatments.

To sum up, placebo effectiveness correlates with the nebulousness of a particular illness. The thought of doing something to get better leads to getting better. Simply being in a trial, even when being given a placebo, leads to better health.

Not mentioned in the article, but I suspect some of the blame for the increasing placebo effect has to do with increased access to medical information. If you've got a vague complaint hit WebMD, input your perceived symptoms, and out pops a cool malady from which you can fixate upon. Now the next time you feel the same vague complaint, those symptoms get magnified by your mind and senses. Once atuned to a problem it's hard not to notice it. Without a nameable syndrome attached to a set of complaints, those complaints might not occupy as large a place in a person's consciousness. Seems plausible that more folks now have psyched themselves into a perception of illness by doing a little research on the web, so it's not surprising that more folks are psyching themselves out of a perception of illness by taking some clinically administered sugar pills.

We are adept at self deception, nobody's immune from that disease. The greater the access to information, the more ways in which we can deceive ourselves. At least that makes sense to me.

And just because, here's some Happy Mondays for you, Kinky Afro, from their album Pill, Thrills, 'n' Bellyaches.

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