The power of placebo has been discussed since ancient times, and even today we debate whether there is a place for placebo in clinical trials of new drugs. In conventional medical practice, doctors are prevented from assign placebos to patient treatment. Placebos started to be used scientifically in order to dispute some claims about effectiveness of certain treatments. The main drawback of use of placebo in trials is that often, the outcome for people who are put in a placebo group is not compared to the group that was not given any medication.

Key Takeaways:

  • Placebos have been around for thousands of years and are the most widely studied treatments in the history of medicine.
  • Placebos were first used in clinical trials in the 18th century to debunk so-called quack cures.
  • To test whether placebos really make people better, we have to compare people who take placebos with people who take no treatment at all.

“Despite their importance, doctors are not allowed to use placebos to help patients (at least, officially), and there are debates about whether we still need them in clinical trials.”

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