Placebos work even after patients are told they’re placebos

Patients continued to report that placebo drugs were working after being told they were not taking medications — but only if they had believed for long enough the placebo was working prior to being told, according to a new study.

Researchers said the new understanding of the placebo effect could lead to better ways to ease addiction and aid in pain management when dealing with stronger, more addictive drugs.

“We’re still learning a lot about the critical ingredients of placebo effects,” said Tor Wager, an associate professor…at the University of Colorado…”What we think now is that they require both belief in the power of the treatment and experiences that are consistent with those beliefs. Those experiences make the brain learn to respond to the treatment as a real event.”…

Schafer said the findings could lead to ways of weaning people off of drugs more easily and quickly, or not using the drugs at all.

“If a child has experience with a drug working, you could wean them off the drug, or switch that drug a placebo, and have them continue taking it,” Schafer said. “We know placebos induce the release of pain-relieving substances in the brain, but we don’t yet know whether this expectation-independent placebo effect is using the same or different systems.”

RTFA for details of the experiment/tests. The more we learn about our brain the smarter, sillier, more capable and unpredictable we seem. 🙂

Tobacco users increase their own marginalization in society

A University of Colorado Cancer Center study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research shows a new dimension to the marginalization of smokers: people who smoke are less likely to vote than their non-smoking peers.

“On one hand, the result is intuitive. We know from previous research that smokers are an increasingly marginalized population, involved in fewer organizations and activities and with less interpersonal trust than nonsmokers. But what our research suggests is that this marginalization may also extend beyond the interpersonal level to attitudes toward political systems and institutions,” says Karen Albright, PhD…Colorado School of Public Health…

The data comes from the Colorado Tobacco Attitudes and Behaviors Study (C-TABS), a questionnaire administered by Arnold Levinson, PhD, investigator at the CU Cancer Center, director of the University Health Smoking Cessation Program, and the paper’s senior author.

Through random digit dialing, the study reached 11,626 people who completed a telephone survey querying a range of demographic, social, and behavioral factors. Questions included smoking behaviors and whether the respondent had voted in a recent election. Overall, 17 percent of respondents were smokers. Holding all other variables constant (included variables of socioeconomic status that were strongly associated with smoking), daily smokers were 60 percent less likely to vote than nonsmokers.

The study is the first to link a health-risk behavior with electoral participation, building on the work of a previous Swedish study that found an association between smoking and political mistrust. Voting is a direct behavioral measure of civic and political engagement that at least partly reflects trust in formal political institutions.

Albright points out that, like many studies that use statistics to describe the behaviors of a population, the current study creates as many questions as it answers, most notably why smokers are less likely to vote. One possibility is that smokers may view political institutions as oppressors, given widespread enactment of tobacco taxes and clean indoor air laws. Somewhat similarly, the stigma associated with smoking may create social withdrawal or feelings of depression or fatalism among smokers, which could decrease voting.

Or…given the key social question asked most often at this blog, “are they ignorant or stupid?” – the pretty generalized understanding of the dangers of smoking seems to indicate these people are stupid.