I am interested in the idea of placebos and of specific social beliefs – such as religion – which operate as placebos. But the most interesting modern placebos are associated with medicine. Despite the obvious huge advances of modern medicine, like most people, I am skeptical of its claimed powers. So too is psychiatrist Patrick Lemoine.
He claims that 35-40% of prescriptions are impure placebos – placebos with a tiny amount of some active ingredient that is insufficient to have any clinical effect. Use of impure placebos is what remains of the witchdoctor’s craft. And good witchdoctors need to sell a patient on a placebo cure – a white coat and a mysterious unintelligible script handed to a pharmacist (also wearing a white coat) can help.
You must know the idea - magnesium for nervousness, antibiotics for viruses and so on. It often seems impossible for a general practitioner to send a patient away without a prescription – and dangerous to prescribe such drugs as antidepressants for mild depressions because of their side-effects – a placebo does less harm and may help.
Of course we should be rational enough to understand that there are various paths for healing. Sport or romance might be more helpful than pills and potions. Or going to Holy Communion and doing the cannibal bit.