Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Doping with placebos

The idea of a placebo is a pill that looks real but isn't.  Make something that looks like a headache pill but is just ordinary - what?  Sugar?  No, we already get enough sugar in our diet. Flour?  Maybe.  


I was very surprised to find that Amazon.com sells placebos online in containers clearly marked "Placebo". Some of them seem rather expensive.  It is typical to say that the placebo was a "sugar pill".  But that it not good enough for some purposes, like mine.  Lynn and I get enough sugar and she is rather fierce about taking unnecessary sweet things.  I want to give her the benefit of placebos when there might be some benefit.  But I can't use something that is sweet.  What should it be?  Possibly real fruit flavored but that is sweet, too.  She likes celery a little and the flavor of pickles.  Maybe carrot pills but I can't find any.


I realized that empty capsules might be helpful but most of them, while very inexpensive, are transparent.  I did find some that are opaque white and red.  If she has a sleeping problem, she could take one, knowing that I want her to be sleepy and she wants to be asleep.  The other night, she woke up way too early.  She thought of her placebos which might give her the desired mental state but it was a late hour and she was in a warm bed.  So, she just imagined taking the placebos!  I think that was a very clever use of them.


Usually, when we speak of doping horses or athletes, we mean giving a drug or substance that gives them an edge. "Doping: administer drugs to (a racehorse, greyhound, or athlete) in order to inhibit or enhance sporting performance."  If we give an athlete an empty capsule but tell him that it contains a performance-enhancing substance, are we guilty of doping?  In "Cure" by Jo Marchant, she tells of studies where people not given a drug but told they had taken it had no change in their performance and people given the drug but not told they had taken it also had no enhanced performance.  Only people who had taken the drug and were told they had showed enhanced performance.


If we tell a champion hurdler that her boyfriend has arrived and is sitting the stands, will she do better? Will the effect on the hurdler be the same if our message to her is not true?  What if the boyfriend is called away after 10 minutes?   Is that psychological doping?  Must all boyfriends, girlfriends, moms and dads stay away?

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