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Inert Placebos Act Like Drugs In Your Mind

Over the centuries, medical prescriptions included animal dung, lizard blood, frog sperm, crab eyes, and countless potentially deadly substances. Patients actually got well on these and hundreds of other useless and dangerous substances. The reason patients recovered was because what they were actually being administered was hope and an expectation of getting well.

Surprisingly often, when the patient trusts the physician and the physician believes in the treatment, the patient develops trust in the treatment and recovers. This trust in the healer and in the treatment may be the most powerful active ingredient

A patient with intractable asthma was treated with what his physician believed to be a powerful new experimental asthma medication. Lung function improved and the patient was enjoying significant symptom relief. The patient’s improvement was more dramatic than even the pharmaceutical company had predicted, so the physician began to wonder if possibly the unexpectedly positive results could at least in part be due to the patient’s own strong belief in the efficacy of the new drug. To test his hypothesis, at the next appointment, he treated the patient with a placebo instead of the new experimental drug. In a follow-up office appointment, the patient complained that the drug had stopped working, and all his symptoms had returned. This proved to the doctor that it was the new experimental drug and not the patient’s belief in it that had catalyzed the healing.

However, the doctor’s hypothesis was later disproved when he contacted the pharmaceutical company to request more of this new wonder drug. At that point, the company informed the physician that what he had believed was a new experimental wonder drug was actually a placebo.

There are countless placebo case studies and placebo-controlled trials reported on in depth in the book In Your Own Hands, along with all the references.

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The purpose of these videos and my website is to provide evidence-based information on how to live with self-care mastery. It is for all medical patients, caregivers, and advocates who want to learn how to collaborate with physicians to optimize the efficacy of your medical care.

Inert Placebos Act Like Drugs In Your Mind

Dr. Larry Berkelhammer

Dr. Berkelhammer is a retired mind-body medicine psychologist. He writes about mindfulness-based practices with a unique emphasis on optimization of wellbeing and health. Dr. Berkelhammer also lectures at San Francisco State University and UC San Francisco, and is currently teaching a class in Marin County through College of Marin. He is the author of the book "In Your Own Hands; New Hope for People with Chronic Medical Conditions".

See his extensive website:

In Your Own Hands: Mindfulness-Based Practices to Optimize Wellbeing - College of Marin Community Education

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APA Reference
Berkelhammer, D. (2016). Inert Placebos Act Like Drugs In Your Mind. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Apr 2016
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