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A powerful tool in the doctor's toolkit

The New York Times, August 16, 2013

Patients who received pain medicine directly from a doctor achieved better pain relief than patients who unknowingly received the same medicine, even at higher doses, automatically in their IVs. The rituals the doctor performs — drawing up the medication, visibly injecting it into the IV, discussing expected benefits — not to mention the attention and caring that comes with the presence of an actual human being — effected as much pain relief as doubling the dose of the medicine. Placebos used to be thought of as psychological mumbo-jumbo more akin to hypnotism than real medicine. The biological breakthrough came in 1978, when researchers showed that not only was the placebo effect real, but that it could be reversed by administering naloxone — the chemical that blocks our endorphins, our natural painkillers.