Thursday, April 29, 2010

Placebo effect beats God, Prozac

This is the story of three drugs. Except one is not really a drug at all and is merely an illusion, a nifty construct, an intense belief that it might be a drug, even though, as mentioned, it is very much not. We just think it is. Isn't that strange? Wonderful? Both?

The three drugs -- which, sorry, are not so much drugs as they are modes of comprehending our own weird little minds, needs and inherent psychoses -- are presented here by way of two recent studies that essentially reinforce what similar studies have been declaring for years and decades and, in the second case, since the ancient mystics suckled wild plants in the forest, licked God, found the source of the soul, and said, you know, holy f--.

Let's lay it out: According to a major new overview study, all of America's beloved wonderdrug antidepressants -- all the Prozacs, Paxils, Effexors, Zolofts of the world -- are essentially useless and don't really work worth a damn.

Wait, that's not quite right. They can sort of work just fine, help millions of people and have enjoyed tremendous success. But there's a huge caveat: Statistically speaking, all these drugs work no better -- and often are far worse for you -- than sugar pills, fake pills, placebos that patients only think are powerful, mind-altering compounds, but which in fact are no more chemically miraculous than a peppermint Altoid.

Have you heard this before? Of course you have. The placebo effect has been known for years. Decades. Forever. It's one of those hotly controversial, yet irrefutable medical/psychological wonders that we don't have the slightest clue how to unravel, much less leverage. And hence, it just freaks us the hell out.

Nevertheless, the recent findings, the result of one of the most comprehensive studies in recent years, are still nothing short of astounding. A sugar pill works as well as a hit of Prozac, if the patient believes she's getting the latter? It's just all sorts of confounding, in how it reveals how the power of the mind is still, to this day, barely understood, untapped, wildly feral, far more brightly powerful than we know what to do with.

It also reveals just how deeply invested massive drug companies are in convincing everyone they can "cure" depression with powerful, often dangerous chemical alternatives, how fearful doctors are of refuting this, how reluctant patients are to understand the difference, and how, above all else, nothing is as it seems.

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