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Ask Marilyn: Testing the Effects of a Placebo
Doug Johnson of Denham Springs Louisiana writes:
Marilyn: If you wished to test the effects of a placebo, what would you give the control group?
Ha, ha—very funny, Doug. But to answer your question, you’d give them the real thing! The difference is that you’d be interested in the effectiveness of the placebo instead of the drug. Placebos have even been tested against each other to determine which is more effective. In one study, sham acupuncture was pitted against dummy pills for chronic arm pain. The acupuncture worked better. (Objective measures, such as grip strength, showed no actual difference.)
Also, before the study began, subjects were advised of possible side effects. About 25 percent of the false-acupuncture patients and 31 percent of the fake-pill patients reported experiencing them!