While traveling back home on a long cross country flight, I got a chance to read a fascinating book, “Suggestible You: The Curious Power of Your Brain to Deceive, Transform and Heal” by Erik Vance. The first few chapters are all about the placebo effect, and how some conditions, such as Parkinson’s Disease, are particularly prone to it.
In a nutshell, the placebo effect is the big challenge in phases 2 & 3 of a clinical trial for a new drug or treatment. In these so-called double blind studies, there is one group that receives the treatment and another group that receives a fake treatment known as the placebo. The patients, and those evaluating the patients do not know who is receiving the real treatment or the placebo until the end of the study. For a treatment to be deemed effective, the patients who received the treatment need to fare better than the placebo group in a statistically significant way. In other words, the treatment being tested has to prove that it’s better than nothing…a challenge that is surprisingly difficult to meet.