Take two of these placebos and call me in the morning

Posted on Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Before he was a psychiatry professor and researcher, Amir Raz was a magician — and the two occupations aren’t as different as you might think. As a researcher at the Lady Davis Institute at the Jewish General Hospital, Raz is interested in deception and how people’s physiology is influenced by their expectations of what is about to happen. He recently led a survey of physicians and psychiatrists at Canadian medical schools and found that one in five respondents has administered or prescribed a placebo. The study also suggests that psychiatrists place much more value on placebo power than other physicians: More than 60 per cent of psychiatrists believe in the therapeutic effect of placebos, and more than 35 per cent reported prescribing subtherapeutic doses of medication to treat their patients.

“While most physicians probably appreciate the clinical merits of placebos, limited guidelines and scientific knowledge, as well as ethical considerations, impede open discussion about the best way we may want to reintroduce placebos into the medical milieu,” says Raz. “This survey provides a valuable starting point for further investigations into Canadian physicians’ attitudes towards and use of placebos.”

This research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Oxford-McGill Neuroscience Collaboration.

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