Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects 10-15% of people around the world. It is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder with symptoms including abdominal pain, discomfort, diarrhoea and constipation. Most medications are used to treat these symptoms independently of each other and few treatments relieve the symptoms of IBS as a whole (Drossman et al. 2010). Studies have demonstrated that there is a substantial, clinically significant placebo effect for IBS. This then led Harvard researchers to investigate if using placebo for IBS could be both ethical and effective.
There is something very empowering about the placebo effect and the idea that we can heal ourselves. For decades, we've known about the placebo effect, but we've been unable to use it ethically in healthcare. One of the primary obstacles to using placebos in healthcare, was informed consent. It was thought that placebos necessarily required deception - the patient had to believe it would work. However, renowned placebo researcher - Ted Kaptchuk - realised that no one had ever put that theory to the test. So he began a research programme into identifying if people could respond to placebos even if they knew they were taking placebos. The results have changed how we think about placebos in healthcare.