I’m a bit chagrined. A medical professional I know told me the tiredness I felt about 4 p.m. yesterday was not a crash from droplets of vitamin B12 wearing off but instead the dreaded placebo effect.
The best studies are double-blind, meaning neither doctors nor study participants know whether they have received a trial medicine or a placebo — often a sugar pill. Those who receive the placebo sometimes experience effects similar to those who receive medication.
UCLA even has an institute dedicated to researching the placebo effect. The UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute in 2005 published a study in the journal “Neuropsychopharmacology” that examined susceptibility to antidepressant side effects.
According to an institute press release, the study was the first to link brain function and medication side effects, and to show a relationship between brain function changes during brief placebo changes and later side effects during treatment with medication.
The study compared brain function changes in healthy research subjects with no history of depression while taking an antidepressant versus placebo.
Researchers found changes in brain function in the prefrontal region during the one-week placebo “lead-in” were related to side effects in subjects who received an antidepressant, according to the release.
I’m not sure if the study makes my point, but it sounds interesting. Widely cited research from the institute in 2002 showed a number of placebo-receiving, depressed subjects reacted similarly to those who received antidepressants.
The way I see it, whether my brain goes AWOL, pumping endorphins out because that’s what it’s supposed to do, or the spray actually works, I guess I’m indifferent. But I can’t say I’m surprised. On the other hand, I’m not totally convinced this stuff doesn’t have some kind of effect somehow.
Jeff Raymond, Medical Writer