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Drug prices and the amazing power of the placebo effect

Drug prices and the amazing power of the placebo effect

The energy used by the human brain is enough to illuminate a 25-watt light bulb.

That’s a little disappointing. I would have thought our noggins could at least muster enough juice to light up a 40-watt. But then, maybe that’s one of the clues as to why our amazing brains are so easy to fool.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently conducted a brain experiment with more than 80 subjects. Each subject was given a mild electrical shock on the wrist. Then each subject was given a painkilling drug.

Along with the pill, half the subjects were given a brochure describing the drug as newly approved by the FDA. The price of the drug: $2.50 per dose. The other subjects received a similar brochure that noted the drug was marked down to 10 cents per dose.

Then everyone was given the electrical shock again.

Among those who read the brochure with the $2.50 list price, 85 percent said their pain was reduced. In the “low price” group, about 60 percent reported less pain.

And not only were they all given the same pill, but all of the pills were placebos – completely free of active ingredients.

The MIT researchers believe their test shows that drugs might be more effective if doctors showed greater enthusiasm about the drugs they prescribe.

But why stop there? If doctors also do what the MIT team did – slip in expensive placebos instead of real drugs – the FDA and their drug company pals just might have an easy solution to all those nasty adverse reactions.

“Commercial Features of Placebo and Therapeutic Efficacy” Journal of the American Medical Association” Vol. 299, No. 9, 3/5/08,