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What is the Role of a Placebo?

A placebo is a harmless substance made to look like a drug or medicine. It can be used for therapeutic purposes, as in prescribing it to a patient who thinks they are receiving a drug and receives the psychological benefits, but the placebo has a greater importance in new drug trials and testing.

A placebo is an essential in research trials. It is usually given to the control group to enable researchers to gauge the effects of a given treatment by comparing those who take the actual drug. This is a vitally important way to evaluate the treatment’s effectiveness by comparing it with a baseline. In most cases, the participants do not know whether they are being given a placebo or not. In double blind studies, the doctors are also unaware of which group is being given the real thing and which is receiving the placebo.

When studying a placebo as it relates to a study for drug or medical treatment effectiveness, it’s important to understand the placebo effect. This refers to an instance when a person reports feelings or symptoms, even though they are given the placebo. This is usually because a person expects to feel or act different, so they perceive it happening. The placebo effect is typically present in one third of cases and is usually temporary, lasting just a few days.

In some cases, the placebo causes unpleasant results, including side effects like headaches, nausea or constipation. This is sometimes referred to as the nocebo effect and is usually explained in the same way. A patient may expect to have side effects so feels them even if they aren’t as a result of the placebo. It’s important to note that the placebo is not producing these effects – it’s only being thought that they are.

There are many ways in which placebos are used for research purposes. They are most often used in clinical trials that study new drugs. There are several things a researcher is trying to discover in a clinical trial that makes use of a placebo. That includes, most importantly, if the treatment works. Other things that are being studied include whether the new treatment works better than existing treatments, what side effects it causes, whether the benefits outweigh the risks and which patients the treatment is most likely to work for.

The role the placebo plays, as mentioned above, is to assess the effectiveness of the drug when compared to a baseline. The main reason a placebo is added to a clinical trial is to determine if the effects of the treatment are due to the drug or some other factor. By comparing the effects of the group of participants taking the drug to the group that is given the placebo, researchers can see if the drug itself is producing side effects or improvement of the condition or if something else is at play.

Without the placebo, a participant’s other life choices, such as healthy eating or exercise, could be having an impact on symptoms and side effects, but that would be hard to determine without having a placebo to compare it to. In most cases, during such clinical trials, participants are asked only to take the drug and not to make any other changes to their routine. This adds to the ability of the researcher to get a clear picture of the effectiveness of the drug.

In short, without the placebo, true results of a clinical study would be undermined, and a researcher would not be able to provide a full report of how it works. That makes the placebo perhaps the most important part of any clinical trial.

Contributors Bio

Contributor photo Lona Glenn
Los Angeles
Lona graduated from Los Angeles City College. While being a lecturer in several high school institutions Lona founded an online educational project Tutorsclass.Read more
Contributor photo Maria Castle
Davis, CA
I studied education and currently work as a tutor for school-age children. I've worked as a volunteer in many different international social projects and as a camp counselor every summer.Read more

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