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Placebos & Pain

December 12, 2011

Can the placebo effect be harnessed to help people with chronic pain?



Placebos and pain …I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Part of the pain relief people experience after taking an analgesic is due the placebo effect, our brains’ expectation of relief. But some people don’t experience any relief from the placebo effect at all, according to University of Manchester neuroscientist Alison Watson.

ALISON WATSON (University of Manchester):

The interesting thing about the placebo response is not the actual individuals that respond to placebos, it’s the individuals that don’t respond to the placebo.


Watson says the placebo effect works in part by activating the body’s natural painkillers, called endorphins. But she says the brains of people with a chronic pain condition called fibromyalgia may have a defect that breaks down those endophins before they can do any good. Her team is studying whether it’s possible to make the placebo effect work better for them.


The implications for this in the future would be to develop drugs that stop these endogenous opiates beeing broken down in the brain.


I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.