Study Discovers Link between Expensive and Cheap Placebos to Effectivenes

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MIAMI - AUGUST 07: Roxana Selagea, a Publix Supermarket pharmacy manager, counts out the correct number of antibiotic pills to fill a prescription August 7, 2007 in Miami, Florida. Publix has decided to start giving away seven commonly prescribed antibiotics for free. The oral antibiotics will be available at no cost to any customers with a prescription as often as they need it. Publix will offer 14-day supplies of the seven drugs at all of the company's pharmacies. The supermarket chain operates 684 pharmacies in five states. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A study published in Neurology by the University of Cincinnati reveals that the effectiveness of dummy drugs or placebos on patients is dependent on the price factor. The more costly the drug, the more effective patients believe it to be, claims the research group. As part of their study, the team analyzed data of twelve patients suffering from moderate levels of Parkinson’s disease.

The team pitted two placebos against each other, made one more costly than the other

For the experiment, the team used two placebos to test their theory that patients’ response to the fake drug – which they believed to be genuine – would increase if they were given an exaggerated price tag. Accordingly the team gave one placebo a higher price tag than the other and tied the cost factor to better treatment. Calling the new medication “a new injectable dopamine agonist”, the team applied the test to Parkinson patients whose brain cells have lost the ability to produce dopamine.

What did the team find?

Each of the volunteer was told that they would be administered two versions of the same untried drug which would produce the same effects. The volunteers were also told that the only difference between the two drugs was their production value with one costing fifteen times more than the second version. Over the course of the study, the research team discovered that while both the dummy pills worked in improving motor function the improvement levels in patients who were given the costly drug was found to be 9% more compared to the cheaper version of the drug. In reality, both the dummy drugs were made from similar saline solution. But the volunteers believing them to be real drugs considered the costly version to be highly effective compared to the cheaper one.

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