Last year, a study was released by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. It was but one of the many efforts conducted in a partnership between BIDMC and Harvard Medical School, through their “Program in Placebo Studies & Therapeutic Encounter” (PiPS), which was established in 2011.
Their official statement and analysis can be read here.
The longstanding theory behind the so-called “placebo effect” is that this effect only can take place when a patient is unaware of the placebo’s true efficacy (i.e. that it does not work).
However, theologians, metaphysicists and philosophers throughout history have long considered the deeper implications behind the observable mechanisms of the placebo.
The learned man has understood for quite some time that the subtle line between placebo “trickery” and conscious extra-senses is abstracted by a mere metaphorical curtain — and all a person need do is pull on this curtain to find this two-way street.
This two-way street, is the basis of not only more esoteric ideas such as entity evocation/invocation, but also the foundations of ancient medicine, transcendental meditation, and authentic shamanism; and in modern society: neuroplasticity, and hypnotherapy often enacted with Neuro-Linguistic Programming.
In this context, placebo goes hand in hand with the idea of “fetish” in an etymological sense of the word. The medicine man created his medicine through enacting altered states of consciousness within the patient, by proxy of seemingly mundane physical items — such as a wooden staff, carved and dressed with feathers, beads, and sinew.
A fetish, at its fundamental definition, is the idea of taking mundane objects or concepts and, through symbolism, achieving a completely different use of these objects or concepts that is separate from their mundane qualities.
Explained senior author Ted Kaptchuk, director of the Program for Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School:
“These findings turn our understanding of the placebo effect on its head… This new research demonstrates that the placebo effect is not necessarily elicited by patients’ conscious expectation that they are getting an active medicine, as long thought.
“Taking a pill in the context of a patient-clinician relationship – even if you know it’s a placebo – is a ritual that changes symptoms and probably activates regions of the brain that modulate symptoms… It’s the benefit of being immersed in treatment: interacting with a physician or nurse, taking pills, all the rituals and symbols of our healthcare system. The body responds to that.”
Especially coming from such classical collegiate realms known for their elitism (both Harvard and BIDMC), the open consideration of the ritual, even in a general sense, is quite interesting.
Noted lead author, Claudia Carvalho, PhD, of ISPA:
“Our findings demonstrate the placebo effect can be elicited without deception… Patients were interested in what would happen and enjoyed this novel approach to their pain. They felt empowered…”
The results of this study and the overall work done at PiPS hold vast and un-developed implications for fields of interest such as homeopathy and herbalism, and any other holistic medicine, and even allopathic medicine.
More development in this field may be a revolutionary shift — a shift that points directly to the esoteric and concepts found in ancient medicine — a shift that will likely not be readily accepted by the Big Pharma medical industry as it has become today.
Ultimately, the implications of placebo do not indicate that any and all medicine are useless aside from the psychological trigger that they provide — but rather, that there is a much deeper, analogous relationship between the concept of the bio-chemical reaction and the psychological trigger (or, essentially, altered states of consciousness) than was previously given credit for.
By Anthony Tyler, Guest writer