Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Placebos tie to brain systems

Wired magazine had a fascinating article on the placebo response. For a new drug to be introduced it has to work significantly better than the placebo. The problem is that the area big pharmacy was hoping most to clean up on turns out to be the one that is also most susceptible to the placebo effect. They were finding that the placebos were often more effective than their drugs they were testing.
To quote:

The blockbuster success of mood drugs in the '80s and '90s emboldened Big Pharma to promote remedies for a growing panoply of disorders that are intimately related to higher brain function. By attempting to dominate the central nervous system, Big Pharma gambled its future on treating ailments that have turned out to be particularly susceptible to the placebo effect.
The reason for this is that the brains expectations orchestrate responses both in the brain and body. One of our best attributes as humans is our ability to predict, this ties into our creation of abstract models & virtualization that we can do as no other animal can. Expectations based on our surroundings can change our internal response to an illness.
From the article again:

In other words, one way that placebo aids recovery is by hacking the mind's ability to predict the future. We are constantly parsing the reactions of those around us—such as the tone a doctor uses to deliver a diagnosis—to generate more-accurate estimations of our fate. One of the most powerful placebogenic triggers is watching someone else experience the benefits of an alleged drug. Researchers call these social aspects of medicine the therapeutic ritual.
So I think there is another way to look at the placebo response, and that is as a system that we have some control over, and that by setting up some of the necessary triggers we can get the effect we want. For example, I have said in a previous post that I do not have an 'on-off' type of control over the brain waves that I would like to be able to switch back and forth between. But what I have found is that if my mind falls naturally into a state that I want, that the EEG training I have done allows me to prolong & potentially enhance it. This means that I have additional control, because the recognition of the state serves as a trigger, and the memory/experience from the training allows me to 'grab on' and go with it.

So this type of control is a good beginning & now I just need to get better control of the triggers. I think it all ties back to expectations & attention. There is some interesting science coming out of the placebo research that could be quite useful.

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