A placebo is a pharmacologically inert substance that is used as a control in clinical trials. The placebo is capable of causing positive health effects on certain sick individuals—especially if they do not know that they are receiving an inert substance (eg. water, sugar) and believe it is a real medication. This has long been known to the medical community, but Ted Kaptchuk, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and one of the leading researchers on the placebo effect, wanted to take his research one step further. He thought, what if instead of deceiving people to the fact that they were taking a medicine, he actually told them the truth? And so he launched the first open-label placebo, or so-called honest placebo trial.
The first study was conducted on people with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). The result was that compared to the people who received no treatment, nearly twice as many people in the trial who knowingly received the placebo pills reported experiencing symptom relief. Not only that, but the men and women who took the placebo doubled their rate of improvement, equaling the effects of two IBS medications commonly used. “I was entirely confused,” says Kaptchuk. “I had hoped it would happen, but it still defies common wisdom.”
When it comes to taking placebos, a certain number of people will accept, believe, and surrender to the thought of being healed or feeling relief from their symptoms without any analysis. As they do this, they begin to program their autonomic nervous system to create the exact pharmacy of chemicals equal to the substance or treatment they think they are receiving. This begs the questions: Is it the inert substance that’s doing the healing? Or is it the body’s innate capacity to heal by thought alone?
Double-blind and triple-blind studies have been the standard in the medical and pharmaceutical industries because it’s known that the mind has an important effect on the efficacy of how drugs work. This has been the common understanding throughout the world, but now this new research is actually showing that people can knowingly take a placebo and experience positive effects without even thinking that it will or will not work. A certain number of people will simply respond to the inert substance with the knowing that there’s no active ingredient in it.
What this demonstrates is that the act of taking pills over time to reduce symptoms becomes the subconscious belief that a substance will heal us. When you combine this idea with the constant barrage of commercials designed to further program us into believing that we need something outside of us to change how we feel inside of us, maybe the conscious mind is not so important after all.
When we are exposed to this type of information over time, a subconscious belief forms that we are all limited, dependent, and powerless. By the time we’re 35-years old, ninety-five percent of who we are becomes a set of automatic behaviors and subconscious beliefs, which means five percent of our conscious mind has nothing to do with what we’ve been subconsciously programmed to believe. Thus, even though people were aware there were no active ingredients in the placebo, their subconscious mind would accept the outcome because they had been programmed to be that way.
Some people may use that five percent of their conscious mind every day to try to be happy, successful, in love, and so on, but if they have subconscious programs that says there is no such thing as happiness, money is bad, and/or love only leads to broken hearts, until they change the subconscious program, they create the same experiences over and over.
This is why the work we do in our daily mediation is so important. The more we reprogram our minds towards greater degrees of love, wholeness, forgiveness, and acceptance, the richer and more joyful our lives become.