Placebo, Nocebo, You Know?

We’ve all heard of the placebo effect, but many are completely ignorant of it’s polar opposite, the nocebo effect. Instead of getting better from a sugar pill as in the placebo, the nocebo is the exact opposite.  Your health deteriorates because you were told it would.

For example a witch doctor might cast a spell on somebody and because of this, they die.  Their death would not be a result of any bodily impairment or black magic,  but is due to the nocebo.  Your mind convinces your body of something, and your body believes it and acts accordingly.

“The body cannot live without the mind” – Morpheus

Nocebo comes from the Latin word nocere which means ‘to harm’.

Placebo is Latin for placere “to please”.

“The medical establishment has been proving that the body can heal itself for over 50 years. We call it “the placebo effect,” and we’ve been trying to outsmart it for decades. We know that in clinical trials, patients being treated with sugar pills, saline injections, and even fake surgeries get better anywhere from 18-80% of the time!

The placebo effect is a thorn in the side of modern medicine. It’s an inconvenient truth that gets in the way of proving that new treatments are more effective than letting nature take its course.

But the placebo effect is nothing to be avoided. It’s something to embrace, because it provides concrete evidence that the body is equipped with innate self-repair mechanisms that have the power to cure. When you cut yourself, your body knows how to mend the cut. When your bone breaks, the bone knows how to stitch itself back together again. We all make cancer cells every day – and the body disposes of them. Infectious invaders, foreign bodies, broken proteins – the body can handle it, assuming those self-repair mechanisms are functioning properly.

So that’s what I mean when I say “you can heal yourself,” that the body has natural self-repair mechanisms that can be flipped on or off based on thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that originate in the mind.”  – Dr. Lissa Rankin

In this day and age, oncologists give out death sentences everyday. “You have stage 4 cancer. You have one year to live”, and so on. The receiver of this bad news is taken aback and thrown into a pit of fear and despair.  Not only do they have a very high chance of not surviving past a year due to their disease, but they are also given a strong, and sometimes lethal dose of the nocebo.

Again, the nocebo effect is the exact opposite of the placebo.  Instead of the patient’s health improving, their health deteriorates due to the fact that their doctor told them it would. A sugar pill with the supposed side effects of dry mouth and diarrhea, gives the patient, you guessed it, dry mouth and diarrhea.  What the patient expects, the patient receives.

Sometimes patients are misdiagnosed with cancer. This is often the case with women who get annual mammograms. (a procedure which is carcinogenic in of itself). False positives, or mammograms that show that you have cancer when you really don’t, are more common in younger women, and those who have had previous biopsies. Some patients do not have cancer at all, yet they die after being told their death is imminent.  Oftimes cancer patients are misdiagnosed and die either from the nocebo or from the cancer treatment, which itself is carcinogenic.  Their autopsies reveal they didn’t have cancer.  In one study, patients were given saline as a fake chemotherapy and as a result threw up and lost their hair, just as they would had the medicine been real.  Their mind makes it real.

chakra man placebo

The mind and body are ONE.  -artist unknown.

This is because the mind and body are One, and not two distinct entities. The mind and the body do not operate independently. They work together synergistically.  Ever since the time of Descartes and his fallacious ‘Mind Body Dualism’, we have been mislead to believe that what affects one doesn’t affect the other, and they are completely separate. As a result, Western Medicine only focuses on the body aspect, while ignoring the other half of the human equation.

Health Organic Frost

 I believe our health care system is badly broken because we’ve lost respect for the body’s ability to heal itself. – Dr. Lissa Rankin

Allopathic physicians (Western Medicine) treat the body with medicine that has physiological responses that can be measured. Meditation, Yoga, Color Therapy, Aromatherapy, Reiki and the like are laughed at by most medical doctors and labeled pseudoscience. This is because of what they have been taught in medical school; Alternative medicine is pseudoscience and their practitioners, charlatans. The mantra, “The only truly effective treatments are drugs and surgery and there is absolutely no evidence to prove otherwise”, is a commonly shared opinion among the medical collective, and in my opinion, a rather materialistic way of looking at things.

“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”  -Niels Bohr

Doctor with medical background

Some might say, “There is no scientific evidence to prove that alternative medicine works”, and in some cases, they are right. There is no scientific evidence because the studies have not been conducted. Research and development costs hundreds of millions of dollars to approve a new drug.  Subsequently, the investors will need to get their money back, which is the reason why patents are issued for each unique medicine.  Otherwise, after years of R&D and millions of dollars spent, there is no possible way for the company to stay in business and turn a profit.

dollar money

The intentions of traditional physicians are altruistic but the system is broken and unfortunately It’s all about the Benjamins

But to say that “alternative treatments don’t really work because there is no scientific evidence”, is like saying there is no scientific evidence to prove parachutes are effective.  There has never been a double-blind placebo controlled study done with two guys that jump out of an airplane, one of which has no parachute.  Its hard to get volunteers for the control group, so be advised that the science on parachutes is still out, and justification for their use is purely antidotal at this point. 😉


If your body is sick, you visit a medical doctor, an M.D. If you’re “sick in the head”, you see a psychiatrist or psychologist.  If your hormones are off, you see a endocrinologist. If you have a sinus infection an otolaryngologist is recommended. Allergies, and allergist. Urinary problems, a urologist. If you have a heart condition, a cardiologist.

There is no universal doctor in western medicine that treats your whole body holistically. Each doctor, no matter who you pick, knows everything there is to know about their narrow concentration, yet very little about all other bodily processes that work together concurrently and synergistically.

This compartmentalization may not be the best approach. Perhaps we should treat the person as a whole, and not focus on each individual part or problem in isolation from the rest of the body and mind. It’s high time we treat the mind and the body holistically, as One.

placebo effect response

“…we know that the mind and body are like parallel universes. Anything that happens in the mental universe, must leave tracks in the physical one…Your body is the physical picture, in 3D, of what you are thinking. While no one would consciously choose to become afflicted with tonsillitis, diabetes or cancer, or any other debilitating life-changing condition, there may be unconscious beliefs that exist to create the environment for an illness or situation to manifest in the physical.”~Deepak Chopra, MD

Since the placebo is so powerful, should we discontinue taking these harmful medications and only choose the sugar pill?  As a thought experiment, let’s say you are depressed and decide to do one of two things, A or B, for arguments sake.

A. The Placebo. The fake Prozac works 81 % of the time ( according to Harvard), doesn’t kill people, doesn’t make kids kill themselves, isn’t toxic to your liver, kidneys, small and large intestine, stomach, and gallbladder.

B.The real Prozac (Lexapro, Zoloft, Paxil, insert your patented flavor of the week petrochemical) works 90 % of the time, but is cytotoxic to darn near every organ in your body and kills 40,000 Americans yearly from properly prescribed use. It also causes trouble sleeping, dry mouth, drowsiness, anal leakage, sweating, low energy, weight gain, shaking and tremors, anxiety from the anal leakage, blurred vision, blood clot in lungs, aggressive behaviour, hepatitis(yup), diarrhea, vomiting, hives and itching, smelly poop, suicidal thoughts, and acute inflammation of the pancreas, seizures, and Sudden Death!

choose wisly indiana

Of course if you choose A, you might suffer side effects associated with the nocebo, but that can be taken care of by informing the patient that the only side effects are more pleasant smelling farts and healthier skin instead of anal leakage and sudden death.

Considering that every year over 100,000 deaths are attributed to properly prescribed and properly administered pharmaceuticals (source: JAMA), it might be a good idea to kick Big Pharma to the curb, replacing toxic drugs with more natural solutions. It’s ironic that many people will claim that homeopathy only works because of the placebo effect.  Those that play that card don’t understand just how powerful the mind can be. If homeopathy only worked due to the placebo, it still comes out far ahead, without claiming people’s heads.

Some lesser known facts dealing with the placebo:

  • The more intrusive the placebo, the better it works
  • The more expensive the placebo, the better it works.
  • Placebo surgeries work very well
  • The doctors displayed confidence in the treatment effects the outcome of the response in the patient.
  • The shape, size and color of the placebo’s effect the outcome.
  • Placebos that are blue work best as downers and Red Placebos work best as uppers
  • Red, orange, and yellow pills are associated with stimulants
  • Blue and green pills tend to make people sleepy.
  • Red pills seem to work better for alertness, yellow for depression medication.
  • Name brand placebos work better.
  • Animals like dogs experience the same placebo response as humans.
  • Cultural factors strongly influence the manner in which placebo effect manifests itself. A placebo in one country could work fine but in another, not as well.
  • Americans respond better to injections than in Europe.
  • The placebo still works even if you know it is a placebo.
  • The placebo effect is activated outside of conscious awareness. We don’t get better because of the expectation of getting better. It works on a subconscious level.
  • If the doctor believes the the drug is ineffective, but tells the patient that it works great, the patient won’t be as likely to get better because on a subconscious level they picked up the doctor’s true attitude of the treatment.
  • Placebos have helped alleviate pain, depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, inflammatory disorders and even cancer
  • The placebo effect may be transferable; a patient being around someone who believes that the treatment will work can cause the patient to do better
  • In one study a third of chemotherapy patients felt nauseous upon entering in a room painted the same color as the one where they got chemo treatment.
  • In a 2008 study of Prozac (fluoxetine), Effexor (venlafaxine), Serzone (nefazodone), and Seroxat (paroxetine) covering 35 clinical trials that involved 5,133 patients found that the placebo effect accounted for 81% of the effect of these drugs.

medical treatment allopathy

Medieval doctors used to prescribe barbarous treatments such as blood letting, mercury, and arsenic to their patients. This obviously was very toxic to the body and killed many people. But, there were those who responded to the treatment and some were actually cured, at least temporarily. The reason the poison worked for some was due to the placebo effect. The placebo works because the mind convinces the body that the poison is real medicine, and the patient gets better. Even though mercury is actually poisonous to the human body it is still somewhat effective. Since their Doctor said it would work, the patient believes them, and often times their ailment is alleviated.

don't own your disease

Doctors now know that the more elaborate and invasive the placebo is, the better it works. For example, a saline injection works better than a sugar pill. Two saline injections work better than one. And a fake surgery (which has been done) works the best of all. The more invasive the placebo, the more effective it is.

It’s no doubt that homeopathic solutions, herbs, and natural remedies owe a portion of their effectiveness to the placebo effect. Many are highly diluted potions that are taken orally. These types of medicines are not that invasive at all. Nevertheless some of their positive response can be attributed to the placebo.

How much of chemotherapy effectiveness is due to the placebo? We know that the more invasive the treatment, the stronger the measured effect.

For more invasive medical interventions like chemotherapy and radiation, this begs the question of: Just how effective are these treatments once you subtract the effectiveness that can be attributed to the placebo? We know that chemotherapy can be effective, at least temporarily. But, we also know that the more invasive the treatment, the stronger the placebo response is.

Chemotherapy and radiation are among the most invasive and elaborate types of medicine in existence, and they come with a long list of horrible side effects, including death. Since these treatments are among the most invasive and elaborate medicines available, it’s inevitable that they have a much higher rate of success that can be attributed to the placebo effect.

bloodletting medicineIn Medieval times, when the patient was prescribed mercury, which is poisonous, 100% of positive response the patient received was due to the placebo. Today, when the patient is prescribed chemotherapy, which is poisonous, what % of the positive response the patient receives can be attributed to the placebo? Could it be the same?

Ted Kaptchuk, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School says, “In the new study, 50 percent of the drug’s effect could be attributed to the placebo effect”. In another study with Prozac, the placebo was responsible for 80%.

This is great news!  This information gives us the power to heal ourselves with our beliefs!

The power to heal lies within.

“It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.”   -Hippocrates

“Every particular in nature, a leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment of time is related to the whole, and partakes of the perfection of the whole. Each particle is a microcosm, and faithfully renders the likeness of the world.”  -Ralph Waldo Emerson





Joe Dubs

I write about philosophy, geometry, health, politics and other stuff that interests me.


  1. Pingback: How To Heal – You Smell Bad

What do you think?