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Excerpted from Best Evidence by Michael Schmicker. Copyright 2000 by Michael Schmicker. Excerpted by permission of Michael Schmicker.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.
 

"Placebo studies published in medical journals have suggested that placebos have the power to produce a variety of physical, bodily cures."

  Michael Schmicker, Best Evidence, Part 2

A while back, a group of Mexican women were given what they were told was a contraceptive pill. The women took the pill and soon began reporting common reactions to contraceptive pills, including "decreased libido, increased headache, bloating of the abdomen, dizziness, stomach pain, nervousness, nausea, anorexia, acne, blurred vision and palpitations." Truth was, it wasn't a contraceptive pill at all. It was a simple sugar tablet, a placebo. How can a plain sugar pin cause blurry vision? Nausea? Bloating of the stomach? Stomach pains? Acne? Dizzy spells? Headaches? Welcome to the world of mind over matter. The sugar didn't cause those bodily physical reactions. The mind of the person that ate the pill -- responding to words from a doctor -- caused the physical reactions. They simply believed they were getting a contraceptive, and their physical bodies reacted, as if it were true. Mental belief created physical reality.

The placebo effect in some ways is an embarrassment to modern medical theory. It doesn't play by the rules laid down by a materialistic world view. Indeed, it appears to violate scientific laws of cause and effect. How can a worthless sugar pill combined with words from a doctor ("This is a contraceptive pill") produce the same dramatic physical effects on the human body as a real chemical drug (often developed with a multi-million dollar budget in a laboratory by trained scientists in a multinational pharmaceutical company)? Yet it does. And science is getting more and more interested in how and why the placebo effect works.

Krippner notes that all sorts of factors can contribute to an effective placebo -- its reputation as treatment, the patient's expectations regarding it, the physician's belief in his own diagnosis, even the color, shape or size of a pill.

In the Mexican case, the physical effect was negative. But the placebo effect can also heal. Placebo studies published in medical journals have suggested that placebos have the power to produce a variety of physical, bodily cures.

Michael Murphy is perhaps best known as the co-founder of the California-based Esalen Institute, a major influence on the popular culture of the United States and the shaping of the "New Age" movement -- particularly in terms of experiments in human potential. In his fascinating book The Future of the Body, he presents a number of thought-provoking studies on the placebo effect. For example, a famous 1955 Harvard University study reviewed 15 double blind experiments done with placebos on 1,082 subjects. It found that the simple placebo alone produced a cure rate of 35 percent on a wide variety of medical problems, including postoperative pain, headaches, colds, angina pectoris discomfort, seasickness and nausea, among others. Noted researcher Henry Beecher, "Many 'effective' drugs have power only a little greater." In other words, the mind alone was nearly as effective as modern drugs in producing physical cures for these tested (though not life-threatening) conditions.

In another famous double-blind clinical study cited by Murphy, doctors used real medicine (sulpharsphenamine) to treat the warts of a group of 105 patients, with a resulting 53 percent cure rate. The same doctors also tried curing the warts of another 120 patients using nothing but colored, distilled water given as a placebo. Some 48 percent of these patients saw a complete remission of their warts. In short, the mind, tricked by a placebo, was just about as effective as a modem drug in eliminating warts.

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