Quotes

Here is a collection of some of the most important and well known quotes and thoughts on the placebo effect from Psychologists, Doctors, etc.

  • Cooper (1823, p. 259): “[When applying] the compound decoction of the sarsaparilla … [in cases of] irritable ulcer, … some think it placebo; others have a very high opinion of its efficacy … [when it is used] after the use of mercury, it diminishes the irritability of the constitution, and soon soothes the system into peace”.

 

Shapiro (p. 656): “[This use of the term “placebo” is a form of] positioning … Introduction of the word placebo to describe a class of treatments not previously specified was an important development in the history of methodology and medicine.”

 

  • Handfield-Jones (1953): “some patients are so unintelligent, neurotic, or inadequate as to be incurable, and life is made easier for them by placebo”.

 

Platt (1947, p. 307): “the frequency with which placebos are used varies inversely with the combined intelligence [sic] of the doctor and his patient”.

 

  • Steele (1891, pp. 277–8): “To argue with a man, and especially with a woman, that there is little the matter with them might be thought injudicious, and to advise them to return at a more convenient occasion requires more time and resolution than writing out a prescription or administering a placebo.”

 

Shapiro (p. 679): “If a placebo is prescribed by a physician because it is thought that it will help the patient, then it is a specific [remedy] and therefore not a placebo [at all].”

 

  • An editorial in the British Medical Journal of 19 January 1952 (p. 150): “But it is a fallacy to suppose that an inactive medicine can do no harm. If prescribed in a perfunctory way for a patient needing explanation and reassurance it may increase faith in his disease rather than in the remedy, and a doctor who gives a placebo in the wrong spirit may harm the patient.”

 

Pepper (1945, p. 411): “There may be a time when during the carrying out of diagnostic tests it is undesirable to give potent medicine lest it interfere with the tests and yet the patient must be encouraged by treatment. … there is a certain amount of skill in the choice and administration of a placebo. In the first place, it must be nothing more than what the name implies a medicine without any pharmacologic action whatever. Even a mild sedative is not a true placebo. Secondly, its name must be unknown to even the most inveterate patient who knows most drugs by name and is always quick to read the prescription. If the medicines named are familiar, the type of patient who needs a placebo will promptly exclaim that this or that drug had been tried and “had not helped me” or “had upset my stomach”. It is well if the drug have a Latin and polysyllabicname; it is wise if it be prescribed with some assurance and emphasis for psychotherapeutic effect. The older physicians each had his favorite placeboic prescriptions – one chose Tincture of Condurango, another the Fluidextract [sic] of Cimicifuga nigra. Certainly this latter by its Latin name might be expected to have more supratentorial action than if one merely wrote for the Black Cohosh, and Condurango would be more effectual than sugar of milk.” Pepper’s assertion that a placebo “must be nothing more than what the name implies” – namely that it must be “a medicine without any pharmacologic action whatever” – in order for it to be called a placebo, is most significant.

 

  • Findley (1953, pp. 1824, 1826): “[If the placebo is not] used as an instrument of deception, but as a technique for cementing the emotional bond which must attach doctor to patient if any form of treatment is to be really successful… [it was] the most important weapon the physician has … [specifically because] in proportion as this [doctor-patient] bond is firm, the [patient’s] need for drugs will likely diminish.”

 

Leslie (1954, p. 854): “Because medicine has been so concerned with its scientific growth, too little attention has been paid to advancing the art of medicine, to which therapy with placebos belongs, and consequently knowledge of the use of placebos has not progressed significantly.”

 

  • Carruthers, Hoffman, Melmon & Nierenberg (2000, p. 1268): “In clinical practice, where a majority of patient visits are for conditions that cannot be explained on a pathophysiologic basis of for which no specific treatment is available, it is essential that physicians understand the concepts and principles of placebos and placebo effects and, when appropriate, use them correctly”.

 

Cochrane “It is important to distinguish the very respectable, conscious use of placebos. The effect of placebos has been shown by randomised controlled trials to be very large. Their use in the correct place is to be encouraged. What is inefficient is the use of relatively expensive drugs as placebos”

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