The Placebo Effect

What is the placebo?

The placebo is a bullshit cure or whatever and the attraction is how it makes a sick person feel better both mentally and even physically.  It always involves telling a person a lie just because they want to hear it.  You are made to think you are getting better or not so bad after all.  Just hearing what you want to hear and feeling the "support" of the liar trigger a feeling of more or less wellbeing.

It is associated with illness but everyday things such as poor mood and fear will respond to it.  Either way it does untold harm.  It is hard to discern how much harm it does.

Here are things that might be defined as placeboes

1 when a benefit comes from a real or fake treatment that is not intended that is a placebo. Real medicines can trigger a placebo

2 a benefit can be thought to have something to do with a treatment and have nothing to do with it

3 an inert drug  may be given to the patient that the patient responds to as if it were pharmacologically effective

4 a treatment that is nonspecific in what it is supposed to do - the person puts their own interpretation on why they feel better and think it is the treatment

5 Sometimes people take medicine and there are good results that are totally unaccountable

6  Even being in a situation seen as involving healing and care for you can trigger a placebo even if you walk away with no sugar pills

7  Often people think that things like meditation do them good while not realising that just sitting on the sofa for a while does the same thing

Two types

There are two placebos -

#one is thinking that something is conventional medicine which in fact is a fake will help you

#the other is that magical/religious belief can do that too

Whichever one you think is the strongest depends on whether you are religiously inclined or not.  Though the first can enable charlatans to claim to cure almost anything it is obvious why the second should and does lead to that far more. It is only luck if does not.

What does the placebo do?

People think a placebo is just about helping pain.

But there is emotional pain and physical pain. There is pain involved in what bad things you feel the future holds for you.

Pain does not bother people so much as in how they feel about it. Even the mere fact of being ill makes you feel bad and unhappy. It is not coming from the illness but from how you feel about being ill. Even the best placebo cannot take some forms of pain away. Thinking of the summer and a beach does not take away toothache. Trying to use a placebo in that case only makes you feel worse and more helpless.

Placebos are mostly sought for emotional pain.

Emotional pain is not just your experience. If you do not feel supported by other people this pain will be worse. The fear of how you will deal with your illness emotionally and how others will deal with it will hurt a lot.  The placebo if it works then works because it makes you feel supported and that the universe cares.

There is no such thing as one placebo  - each one is a collection of placeboes all that do different things or perhaps they do nothing!  Depression, worry, anxiety are really top of the list in terms of the demand for them.  Chronic pain is next.

Clearly we have to get our facts right about placebos for vulnerable people with depression etc may be at risk.

It is the doctor/healer plus the fee who is the biggest placebo

When a doctor gives you sugar tablets to cure your erroneous belief that you are sick or sicker than what you are and you improve that is the placebo effect at work.

It is really the doctor's helpfulness and giving you hope that helps not the tablet. A placebo requires support from other people to work. They need to help you keep feeling better. Company helps.

Take the placebo in medicine. The placebo has the best chance of success when a pill is very big and costly. Fake surgery works better than any pill as a placebo. If you are very sick you feel you need drastic help which is why you will respond better to something that seems invasive be it surgery or an injection or whatever. Side-effects real or imagined from the treatment trigger a placebo effect for they think then the treatment is powerful. Another huge factor is the patient must be listened to and feel involved and active in the treatment. The latter means that if you think God is curing you and listening to you and letting you get involved a placebo will result.

The placebo is basically a form of emotional manipulation.  It is a feel-good lie.  An issue comes up for ethics.  There is not only the patient to worry about but the fact that others will see a lie has been told and lies spread and lead to more lies.

The belief placebo

A belief can be a placebo but does not have to be.  There is no way of knowing if the person with a placebo who seems to benefit really believes in it or lacks conviction.  A fantasy can be a good placebo too.  A film can make you feel wonderful despite you knowing it is not real.

Anything at all can be a placebo and there is no guarantee that the placebo you get is the best one for you.  Most people don't care and just want to feel better.

So far it is clear that at best a placebo should be seen as a necessary evil.

If people get a placebo cure, it cannot make them really in any way better.  It is not a cure and what happens is the person will feel better if she or he has a big belief in the cure.  Placebos offer you principles that they claim work while what works is not the principles at all.  Placebos breed quackery and when it is your health you are dealing with you really need to be grounded in reality for reality does not change for anyone.  It is what it is.  Placebo givers need courses and through those the misinformation and lies are spread.  Mainstream treatments end up being put under suspicion and medical professionals get slandered.

In medicine, the placebo effect is a necessary evil. It is not something to be happy about doing to a sick person.

A placebo does not just appear – it has to be paved the way for and developed.  It never takes one lie to do a placebo it takes several and if you lie now you don't know how much lying you will have to do to make the lie look true.

A placebo is intended to fool you into thinking it will make you better. This causes you to feel better and more hopeful. It is never the placebo that helps but how one feels about it so it follows any placebo will do. That could be dangerous. It proves nothing has the right to claim to be the best placebo.

A placebo is fundamentally a mechanism by which you seek to dodge the truth because you think it relieves or stops pain. It does not follow that the truth is really as painful as you imagine. The sensible person makes the truth her or his placebo instead of trying to look for quick and ultimately harmful solutions.

Prayer placebo

Nobody really likes hurting others or waging war.  Prayer is the placebo for evil that gets believers to overcome their better nature in order to kill people in the name of God. Even if a believer kills and thinks God is against it the believer still thinks that God somehow is responsible. The believer consoles herself by saying, “If it was wrong for me to do what I did at least God will get it to turn good.”  God being creator means that God is more responsible for something happening than we can ever be.  Religion and worship and prayer are all about how no matter how terrible an evil is, he is doing something to turn it good.

Magic placebo

The placebo works through by being faith in faith.

Any placebo would do because it is never the placebo that heals but one's positive and hopeful attitude to it. So there is no justification for involving religion or healers in triggering the placebo. Better to give somebody some holy water or a healing spellbook than to send for a healer. It is better still to give a person the lifeskills that help them reduce the need for the placebo.

If a placebo is ever justified, using a religious or magical one never is. It is not needed for a start. It is always better to give a person a sugar pill than to send them to a spell-weaver. At least then they think it is science that is helping them.


Many people suffering from depression are helped by placeboes and they get new hope.

This is such a dangerous area that it cannot really be recommended to apply a placebo.

Disagree?  Then what? 

It is obvious that only testable placeboes can be tried. To tell somebody that God can help them if they ask is irresponsible.  Lots of people have done that and it has not worked and the only thing that helped was another placebo or medication.

A placebo needs a third party.  Thus a placebo for depression should only be facilitated by somebody who knows what they are doing.

If the problem is depression, thinking that prayer is lifting it, is dangerous. And even more so when prayer is said to bring answers but not in the way you expect - for example, it may not be God's will that you recover. It is better to feel that your own inner resources are getting you through it. Self-confidence needs to grow to help the problem. If you discover that you need to be lied to by the person giving you a placebo or to deceive yourself that is not going to help your depression but worsen it.

Religion as placebo

Even if religion is not a placebo the fact remains is that people treat it like it is.  It need not be inherently a placebo in order to thrive on being used as one.

If a placebo is what a religion needs to be strong then no matter how wise its teaching is it is still a bad religion.  For example, bad people who die are always said to be in Heaven!  Many religions are inherently placebos.  If a religion treats itself as a placebo or potential placebo for evil that could be the reason why its members are at times worse than average.


If faith is a placebo then it should be challenged for another placebo should be as good if not better. It does not matter what the belief is as long as the placebo works. The person needs you to affirm the placebo for no placebo works if the friends are negative about it. So you have to be honest and challenge the placebo. You have to challenge the crutch for the sake of your own integrity. Lack of integrity in you will be perceived and that will destroy their placebo anyway so you have to challenge it.  It is a good placebo when you challenge for you are saying, "I believe you can come out of this better than before."

What's the harm?

Some attempt to trigger a placebo in others by telling them they are praying for their healing be it of a spiritual nature or non-spiritual.  Religious people will believe that God will not be dumb enough to accept such prayers.  They are props not prayers.   To ask God to heal somebody's body implies that healing them from spiritual flaws comes first.  The idea is that God never gives you anything that makes you less holy or good.  So praying for spiritual healing is at the back of the minds of all who pray for others. But back to the placebo.  In tests it backfires and the prayed for end up giving up a bit or a lot and end up no better or worse as a result. Some wonder if the failure is evidence that praying for people psychically or magically hurts them.  If that happens the nocebo will grow very strong.

Heal others by hoping for them.  People's immune systems and their hearts get a boost when they know somebody hopes for the best for them.  Hope is better than faith and you are better rid of faith than rid of hope.  Faith is just a needless gimmick placebo.

If faith is a placebo then it should be challenged for another placebo should be as good if not better. It does not matter what the belief is as long as the placebo works. The person needs you to affirm the placebo for no placebo works if the friends are negative about it. So you have to be honest and challenge the placebo. You have to challenge the crutch for the sake of your own integrity. Lack of integrity in you will be perceived and that will destroy their placebo anyway so you have to challenge it. It is a good placebo when you challenge for you are saying, "I believe you can come out of this better than before."


Placebos for many make them feel better but they are not any better.  Others seem to improve.  Placeboes will backfire for being based on a lie they will be found out.  Doubt will set in so the good placebo subject today will be a good no-cebo subject tomorrow.  They will not work for everybody and so if they don't work for me I will blame myself when I see them working for others.  They are dangerous.  A placebo needs to invoke magical invisible forces to be at its best.  When a placebo - especially with religious connotations - does not work the person will feel that the healer or God has cursed them either by maliciously not helping or by doing a no-cebo (a placebo in reverse - it makes you worse not better).  A magic power that just leaves you in your suffering or one that actively hurts you is not made any less bad or any better by leaving you in your mess.  You will fear it doing something nasty.  By leaving you it is doing something nasty anyway. 

Every healer who uses the placebo is harming ten for every one that seems to be helped.  If I help x what about how it is only luck that lets that help come?  The potential harm is frightening.  That is what matters not what that one person says.  The healer deserves discouragement and suspicion.  Belief in magic is a bad thing and leads to more bad things.


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