Placebo: Now available in maximum strength

For only 6 British Pounds, you can cure what ails you with Placebo maximum strength sugar pills.

I'm a little sad that Etsy user spellingmistakes got to this idea before I could start marketing Placebex, as I've been threatening to do since approximately 2001. Maybe there's an intellectual property lawsuit in there someplace. ;)

And, before you ask, yes ... there really is some evidence that placebos work even if the people taking them already know that the drug is a placebo. Back in 2010, a study of ethical placebos used with irritable bowel patients got a lot of press. It was a follow up to a 2008 study that found roughly the same results.

If you want to read more on ethical placebos, I'd recommend checking out the following stories:

Evidence that placebos work even if you tell people they're taking placebos by Ed Yong
Meet the ethical placebo by Steve Silberman

Or, perhaps, you might like to purchase some Placebo maximum strength.

Via Darren Cullen


    1.  Doctors can get prescriptions to Cebocap, which is simply a sugar pill. I believe you can purchase both Cebocap (and the harder to pronounce, but more humorously spelled, Obecalp) from most any pharmacy, at least on their online stores.

      So there’s nothing stopping you from getting a bunch and adding a sticker of your own for just that kind of retail “bombing.”

  1. If we were to take (non-blind) placebos seriously, what  would placebic therapy eventually become? Presumably it would evolve away from the setting of doctors in white coats writing out prescriptions for coloured pills, and end up looking more like folk magic or something.

    1. Not necessarily.  There is evidence (peer-reviewed studies that I can’t lay my hands on right this moment) that having a doctor prescribe a placebo makes it work more effectively.  Here “doctor” means (1) a person in a lab coat, (2) in a hospital-like setting, and (3) a man.  There are other demonstrated effects too, like larger pills working better than smaller pills and some color-specific effects.  The doctor-prescribed placebo is piggybacking on a general belief in modern pharmacology; moving it  to an alternative setting is likely to make it less effective.  Of course, as attitudes evolve so will the details of maximizing placebo response.

      1. There’s actually some really interesting stuff packed into this.  I think I once read that red placebos were more “effective” as well.  And taking two pills rather than one enhances the “power” of “real” medicine (so many quotes, sooo many quotes).  All of which points to the power of cultural symbols to effect physical changes on individuals.  And once you start letting that idea into official medicinal doctrine, stuff gets complicated. Super fun!

  2. Are you certain about the attribution?  Shouldn’t it be “spellingmisteaks”?

    Great idea, BTW.  Perhaps substantially more active ingredients than homeopathic cures.

  3. I’d like to get this, but Spellingmistakes wouldn’t ship this to me since I left negative feedback about the authenticity claims of the  “Imitation Faux Ersatz” I ordered from them a while back.

  4. Don’t be too quick to laugh at homeopathic medicine. Placebos kick the ass of much of Western pharmacology. I’m sure I’m overstating the case, but I do recall that none of the anti-depressants fared well. Once you subtracted placebo effects from drugs like Prozac, it was difficult to find any effectiveness at all. The entire lot of them. 

    For all our self-centredness, I wonder if homeopathy was designed to exploit the placebo effect. A clever approach, simply misunderstood. Much like Feng Shui, which is by all accounts a method of giving people who know squat about architecture a method or recipe for creating a comfortable feeling interior. It’s just Westerners got hold of it and treat it like new age magic mumbo jumbo. I’m sticking to the same story re: meditation. Very concrete, sensible practice for well being turned into new age magic mumbo jumbo chant spells.

    1.  Oh, okay then. Homeopathy practitioners are *accidentally benevolent* anti-science nutballs because, while they themselves believe that dilution of a substance *strengthens* its effect, it was all just an elaborate scheme by Samuel Hahnemann to trick people into using placebos to actually make them feel better. Right.

      Medical science sure isn’t perfect, but it changes as scientific knowledge evolves and improves. Can’t say the same for homeopathy or other “alternative” approaches.

      Know what they call “alternative medicine” that has been proven to work? They call it “medicine.”

    2.  I think it is important to define what exactly you mean by the term ‘placebo effect’. I use the term to mean a change in outcome measure following a non-active intervention. There are a host of reasons that changes in outcome can be measured, such as poorly designed studies, experimental bias and publication bias that need to be eliminated before we consider the magical power of mind over body. However, there is indeed a magical placebo effect, but it is small and only affects continuously variable subjective outcome measures, such as how happy somebody feels or how they rate their pain. There is a classic analysis of the placebo effect published in the New England Journal of medicine, and on a scale of 100 (if I recall correctly) the placebo effect could reduce it by up to 6 points. A good cuddle will do the same. There is no placebo effect for objective outcome measures such as recovery from infection or cancer or limb amputation. I think the so-called placebo effect is just a demonstration of how people feel better when they get support and attention – there is no need to dress it up in quackery.

    3. First you said, “Placebos kick the ass of much of Western pharmacology.”

      Then you said, “I’m sure I’m overstating the case….”

      You, sir, may collect your “Understatement of the Century” award at the judges’ desk.

      1. Thank you!  And finally – someone posts attribution to back up their points instead of just saying, “Well, I heard somewhere…” or “There’s links out there somewhere that I don’t have my hands on at the moment” or some other lazy way of saying they don’t know what they’re talking about.  Sorry.  Lengthy rant, there.  Just – thank you.

  5. That’s not a new idea; Dr. J.J. Aulas, a French psychiatrist and pharmacologist marketed a placebo called “Lobepac®” 10 years ago. It came in two variants, red (“Lobecap fort”, marketed as stimulating), and blue (“Lobepac sédatif”, marketed as calming). 

    More info, in French:

  6. “And, before you ask, yes … there really is some evidence that placebos work even if the people taking them already know that the drug is a placebo. Back in 2010, a study of ethical placebos used with irritable bowel patients got a lot of press. It was a follow up to a 2008 study that found roughly the same results.”

    Are you referring to the “Placebo without Deception” paper? Actually, when you take a close look at the study, that’s not what happened: they didn’t just tell the patients “this pill is a placebo” and leave it at that, but built up patient expectation with what they called “a persuasive rationale” (!), i.e. impressive statements positing the reality of “body-mind” interactions, a “powerful but mysterious” placebo effect, etc. Which is what the study was setting out to test in the first place. Uh, oh. In short, one can’t use this study, or the one it replicated, as scientific evidence for a placebo effect that doesn’t rely on deception. (And also, the effect measure was still mild: patients felt a bit better, but the underlying condition didn’t improve. They still had to take their treatment.)

    See for example Dr. Gorski’s discussion of that study at the Science Based Medecine blog:

  7. What’s even more fun is that placebos work  better when you charge more for them. Even if you know they’re placebos. So this dude should totally have a sliding scale for payment, where you pay more to get more effect… from the same product. Kind of like Kickstarter for your brain.

  8. “Some evidence”?  There is more evidence for the efficacy of placebos than for, possibly, any drug on the market.  That’s why its standard procedure to measure the efficacy of any new drug against placebo.  Please don’t confuse placebos with “Holistic medicine”, which have little evidence to support them.

  9. The comments in this thread represent a huge fraction of what I love about Boing Boing.  To riff on the cliche:  “I read Boing Boing for the comments.”

    1. I’ve been taking Fukitol every day, for years. Works great.

      It’s a suppository, though.

  10. Heck these things have been around for a long time.  I call them jelly beans.

  11. Not one commenter shows any concern about the plight of those of us with placebo allergies. Typical.

  12. “Max Strength” is just about priceless.  What does it mean?  “We’ve extracted everything of physiological value better than the competition”?

    This is Placebo Brand X – “Does nothing for me, I can taste a bit of medicine in there”.
    This is our Placebo Max Strength – “Wow! Now THAT’S a placebo!”

  13. There’s also an entertaining chapter in the book “13 Things That Don’t Make Sense” regarding placebo effects and another chapter on why homeopathic treatments cannot be completely dismissed (yet). 

  14. I’m a little sad that Etsy user spellingmistakes got to this idea before I could start marketing Placebex, as I’ve been threatening to do since approximately 2001. Maybe there’s an intellectual property lawsuit in there someplace. ;)

    Or you can just wait out the patent and then mass produce cheap generics in China!

  15. This “placebo being effects” is imho the biggest data analysis error, or result misinterpretation, in the history of science.

     A certain percentage of people get better with placebos, this is absolutely true, but it is also true that a certain percentage of people get better even when taking absolutely nothing. E.g. last week I had cold, I did not take anything, and today I’m fine, is this  not-even-taken-placebo effect?

    No! That’s because most diseases are not deadly even if not treated, and even deadly diseases are not a monotonous path of pain toward death. E.g. even if you only have 3 days left of life, it may be that tomorrow you’ll feel better than today, but that’s not placebo effect it’s just random fluctuation of the symptoms and of your own perception of the symptoms and pain endurance.

    The perception itself can be modified by a placebo, yet that does not mean that the placebo is improving anything, it’s just making the patient less likely to complain.

    There are however a couple of exception: diseases like hypertension which can be worsened by stress and anxiety or psychosomatic manifestations can be actually improved by a placebo, but they are a only a small fraction of possible conditions.

  16. I use a (replica) sonic screwdriver on my kids – the ultimate placebo, only green photons hitting the affected parts. Works like a charm against growing pains, minor cuts and bruises, sore throat and many other physical ailments. My only fear is that they will beat the crap out of me once they find out it’s fake.

    1. What will you tell them when they start asking questions about where you got it? 

      “Son, we’re part Time Lord.” 

      “Well, see, before you came along and ruined everything, your mother and I used to travel through time and space.” 

      1. “In fact, son, your mother and I are pretty sure you were conceived in the year five billion sixty seven A.D. Seeing our bloated sun and charred inner solar system can be pretty sexy.”

    2. That  isn’t much different than kissing boo-boos. It’s just that you added some cool special effects.

  17. “Note: Not for human consumption.”  LOL.

    Shouldn’t there be a long list of possible side effects, such as weight gain, tooth decay and diabetes? “If aftertaste persists for more than 4 hours, consult your physician.”

    Beware of grey-market placebos, their sugar may not be up to our lofty pharmaceutical standards.

  18. Unfortunately, somebody beat me to the name Panacebo, so I lost out on that one.

    However, I have independently determined a way to make placebos 95% more effective: just add side effects!

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