Thinking makes it so. The brain’s ability to create its world is the subject of my novel Trompe l’Oeil and that of much scientific research. I might appear to be repeating myself unnecessarily by bringing the topic up again. Nonetheless, new studies are giving us a greater insight into brain’s creative functions, most recently those concerned with the placebo effect. The effect occurs when someone gives us a sugar coated pill which, for no discernible reason, eliminates our symptoms.
For a long time, doctors discounted the phenomena as the product of a hysterical mind. But no more. Now they are looking at ways to harness this healing power. (“The Drug Free Way to Heal Yourself,” by Jo Merchant, More, March 2016 pgs. 92-96, 103.) In the past, some physicians have wondered about the ethics of lying to a patient about fake medication. But recent studies show that even when the patient is told he or she Is receiving is a sugar coated pill, the healing response remains the same. Lies may no longer be necessary. Even if the patient is in on the trick, the act of focusing on taking the pill seems to work, especially when a doctor gives the patient support during the treatment. (Ibid pg. 96.)
Placebos, as a mode of treatment, have grown respectable enough for one company, Mullumbimby in Australia, to sell its sugar pills around the world. 700 sugar tablets for $14.00 plus $10.50 to cover shipping and handling. (Ibid, pg. 103.) Given what we now know, some doctors are wondering if the same healing response is possible merely by focusing on the desired outcome and eliminating the pill.
Subjective symptoms like pain, fatigue, anxiety and some depressions respond best to the placebo effect. For years, when I was required to travel a lot, I carried prescription pills to relax me. I never took one. Somehow, knowing I had them was enough.
Of course, some illnesses are impervious to expectations. As far as researchers know, placebos can’t clear a clogged artery, cure cancer or heal a broken bone. On the other hand, the body already knows how to heal a bone and in some cases, even cancer. Could it be that as we continue to study ourselves, we may learn how to manage many of our illness by managing our thoughts?