The Placebo Effect Has Its Place

Physician Aidan O’Donnell draws a lesson from the rise of “cosmeceuticals“, or cosmetic products that purport to have medical benefits:

From my point of view as a doctor, [cosmeceutical treatments are] a deliberate use of the placebo effect. There is a lot of nonsense spoken about the placebo effect, so to avoid confusion, I consider the placebo effect to be the added satisfaction patients derive from a treatment, over and above its actual benefit. It is neither quackery nor witchcraft; nor is it closed to the orthodox tools of scientific inquiry. The crux of it is this: the placebo effect makes you feel better, even if it doesn’t make you get better. …

I can’t help wondering if [dismissing the placebo effect] misses something very important: Patients want the placebo effect. In fact, some of them are prepared to shun orthodox medicine and pay money to practitioners who can provide them with only the placebo effect. Worldwide, people spend over US$100 billion on complementary or alternative medicine. It seems that people are voting with their wallets, for treatments which don’t “work.”

To be clear, I do not consider such people to be credulous fools. Instead, I think they are looking for something which orthodox medicine doesn’t quite recognize the value of.