The History Of The Placebo

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The history of the placebo
The placebo, though unknown at the time, has been a fundamental part of medicine since antiquity. Simply put by Shapiro and Shapiro (who are considered influential writers in placebo research), “the history of the placebo is the history of medical practice itself, until modern times”. (Shapiro & Shapiro, 1997) In their book, ‘The Powerful Placebo: From Ancient Priest to Modern Physician’, there is an extensive list of ancient medicine medicaments and procedures all of which would now be deemed bizarre and inexplicable. For example, medicines included parts of frogs and scorpions, the flesh of vipers and grated skull. It must be remembered that the eccentricity of these treatments is accounted for by the lack of
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This is the phenomenon known as the placebo effect. (Benedetti, 2009)
However, it has only been in the last century, due to the rise of evidence-based medicine, that we have identified the placebo.
What is the placebo and the placebo effect?
The definition of the placebo and placebo effect is disputed but according to Shapiro and Morris, who wrote an extensive dissertation on the placebo:
“A placebo is defined as any therapy or component of therapy used for its nonspecific, psychological, or psychophysiological effect, or that it is used for its presumed specific effect, but is without specific activity for the condition being treated.” (Shapiro & Morris, 1978) “A placebo effect is defined as the psychological or psychophysiological effect produced by placebos.” (Shapiro & Morris, 1978)
Shapiro and Morris’ definition is widely accepted and quoted, to words of similar effect, in other journals and books (for example ‘Placebo interventions, placebo effects and clinical practice’). Shapiro & Morris then differentiate pure placebos which they describe as ‘treatments that are devoid of active, specific components’ from impure placebos, which ‘contain non-placebo components’. A profound definition would be as follows, “Impure placebos are substances, interventions or ‘therapeutic’ methods which have known pharmacological, clinical or physical value for some ailments but lack specific therapeutic effects or value for the condition for which they have been
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