The witch doctor succeeds for the same reason all the rest of us succeed...We are best when we give the doctor who resides within each patient a chance to go to work.



In 2008, researchers at Caltech proved that people enjoy cheap wine more if they think it's expensive.

W.C. FIELDS (1880-1946)

A man's got to believe in something. I believe I'll have another drink.

Mind and Matter

Recent studies on the placebo effect indicate that it works even if you know it's a placebo. Which, if true, is great because it means that doctors could prescribe placebos ethically. In one study, patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome were given pills presented as 'placebo pills made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes'. After three weeks, 60% of the placebo group reported improvements compared to 35% of a control group who were given nothing. The researchers speculate that the mere ritual of consulting a doctor and being given some pills is sufficient to trigger a healing response.
In other placebo studies, taking four sugar pills has been found to be more effective than taking two.

A test to examine the effect of aspirin against a placebo for treating headaches found that when patients were randomly assigned either aspirin or a placebo, in either a blank, plain box, or a flashy, brand name box, the aspirin unsurprisingly worked better than the placebo. However, both the aspirin and the placebo worked better if they came in the flashy, brand-name box.

Another US study examining treating pain from electric shocks found that exactly the same medication worked better on patients who were told the drug cost $2.50 than those who were told the exact same drug only cost 50 cents.

Red Pills or Blue? 

Colour plays a role in the placebo effect; pink sugar pills work better as a stimulant, blue ones as a sedative. Placebo injections work better than placebo pills, and the more ritual that surrounds the treatment the better it works. And it’s not just pills: sham operations have also been shown to be effective. A knee operation where the surgeon makes an incision, then just sews it up again, has produced real improvements in the patients' symptoms, and sham angioplasty has been shown to be almost as effective as a real operation. Given that angina is a physiological condition caused by constriction of the blood vessels to the heart, this is a pretty astounding result.
There has also been a study in which people given plain tonic water but told that it was vodka and tonic did worse in memory tests, but were more confident of their results than the control group who didn’t think they’d had any alcohol – so you can get placebo-drunk.

Placebo is Latin for 'I will please'.

Penis-enlarging vacuum devices rarely work, but in some cases they can, provide a ‘psychological uplifting effect’.

LEWIS THOMAS (1913-93)

The great secret of doctors, known only to their wives... is that most things get better by themselves; most things, in fact are better in the morning.

Curses: The Nocebo Effect

Nocebo comes from the Latin ‘I will harm’ and is the placebo effect’s dark counterpart. Nocebo effects are undesirable reactions that a patient experiences as a result of administering a placebo; generated entirely by the subject's pessimistic belief that unpleasant consequences would occur. An example of nocebo effect would be someone who dies of fright after being bitten by a non-venomous snake.
Anthropologists use the term ‘nocebo ritual’ to describe a procedure, treatment, or ritual that has been performed (or a herbal remedy or medication that has been administered) with malicious intent, such as a curse. This allows a distinction to be made between rituals, like faith healing, that are performed in order to heal, cure, or bring benefit (placebo rituals) and others, like cursing that are performed in order to kill, injure or bring harm (nocebo rituals). 

Kiss it Better

The placebo effect was first discovered in WW2 by US anaesthetist Henry Beecher when he found that he could operate on wounded soldiers using a saline solution instead of morphine.

Placebos work on nearly everyone, particularly in the area of pain – all mothers are consciously deploying the placebo effect when they treat a minor injury by ‘kissing it better’.

Placebo drugs used in a trial for treating ulcers worked much better in Germany than in Brazil.