Placebo. We hear that word a lot when listening to medical jargon, but what is it? And what role does it play in clinical trials?

Placebo and its effect

According to the American Cancer Society, placebo is an inactive look-alike substance or treatment that acts as a real treatment but doesn’t directly affect the illness. Often a sugar pill, placebo looks, feels and tastes exactly the same as the treatment being tested but lacks any active ingredients.

1 in 3 people taking placebo in a clinical trial will experience a condition called the expectations effect. Even though the placebo doesn’t act on the disease it may affect how the patient feels. The patient might experience changes in their symptoms which can be attributed to the perception of what they believe will happen when taking the medication.

Some patients will feel that the placebo is relieving the symptoms, often known as the placebo effect, while others will experience the “side effects” of the medication such as headaches, nausea or constipation. The latter category is often referred to as the nocebo effect.

Placebo’s role in clinical trials

Placebo acts as a control variable in a clinical trial. Its main goal is to prove that the effects, if any, are caused by the treatment and not any other factors such as psychological expectations.

When placebo is used in a clinical trial, neither the patient nor the doctors are aware of who’s taking which treatment – placebo or treatment being tested –  to avoid any possible biases that could affect the outcomes of the trial.

Read More: Clinical Trials: Questions, Facts, Benefits, and Risks 

Participating in a clinical trial is an amazing thing to do! Volunteers will help further medical research for current and future generations and may have access to possible new treatment options. Before joining a clinical trial, the research team will go through the goals, steps, and the overall trial. Additionally, they inform the patients if the trial has placebo and will make sure to clarify that all patients have an equal chance of being placed in the control group.

Those volunteers who get placebo play an extremely important role in clinical trials. Help us understand and further medical knowledge, apply for a research study today!

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