(NaturalNews) Almost half of all doctors have prescribed placebos to their patients at some point, according to a survey conducted by a medical student at the University of Chicago and published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Rachel Sherman sent a survey to 466 internists in at three academic medical centers in the Chicago area. Of approximately 200 that responded, 45 percent admitted to prescribing placebos on occasion.
Within this group, 19 percent told their patients that the placebo was "medication," while 9 percent said it was "medicine with no specific effect." Another 34 percent told patients that the placebo was "a substance that may help and will not hurt."
A placebo is a neutral substance given in place of a drug that may produce an effect anyway, based on the power of suggestion. The placebo effect is well-known and as such, the effects of drugs are usually compared to the effect of a placebo in clinical studies, rather than to the effect of giving no treatment at all.
Prior studies have shown that the brains of patients given placebo painkillers produce pain killing endorphins, leading to the same biological effect as an actual drug.
"If I give you a pill and I say that you're going to get better, people get better," said general practitioner Peter Lin. He noted that the word placebo comes from the Latin for "to please somebody."
"It's not an imagined improvement," he said. "It's an actual improvement. There is a huge mind-body connection that we need to explore."
Approximately 12 percent of the doctors surveyed said that prescribing placebos should be prohibited.
Lin disagreed. He said that it would be wrong to prescribe a placebo just to try and get rid of a patient, but that if a doctor is convinced that a patient who insists upon medicine is actually healthy, a placebo can't hurt.
"If we can get patients to feel better, that's good," he said.