Steve Silberman has written a fascinating article for Wired about the increasing power of the placebo effect and its potential effect on the pharmaceutical industry. He writes:
Why are inert pills suddenly overwhelming promising new drugs and established medicines alike? The reasons are only just beginning to be understood. A network of independent researchers is doggedly uncovering the inner workings--and potential therapeutic applications--of the placebo effect. At the same time, drugmakers are realizing they need to fully understand the mechanisms behind it so they can design trials that differentiate more clearly between the beneficial effects of their products and the body's innate ability to heal itself. A special task force of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health is seeking to stem the crisis by quietly undertaking one of the most ambitious data-sharing efforts in the history of the drug industry. After decades in the jungles of fringe science, the placebo effect has become the elephant in the boardroom.
The whole piece is definitely worth reading.
Also worth checking out is this short video in which Stanford's chief of pain managment, Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, uses fMRI scans to show how the placebo effect works.
Photo by Fillmore Photography