Blog | Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Power of placebos


The New York Times reported today that a Maryland woman has started a company to sell placebo pills to the public, basically so that parents can pretend to medicate their kids. It raises all sorts of interesting questions. For one, are today's kids so heavily medicated that a pretend pill will do more to heal them than a kiss from Mom?

Experts who commented on the idea expressed concern that a) the pills wouldn't work because the situations would not be double-blinded (i.e., the parents know they're fake) and b) it's wrong for parents to lie to their kids.

The second criticism seems pretty ridiculous to me. With all the things that parents lie to their kids about (from Santa Claus to illegal drug use), how significant is a single pill? And, if as a society, we're really concerned about the dishonesty of placebo distribution, shouldn't we be looking more critically at their use in medicine and research? This Slate article on the subject isn't new, but it raised some questions in my mind about the use and value of placebos that have stuck with me since I read it.