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New Study Finds Placebo Effective Even When Patients Are Aware Of It

On October 16th, a study was released by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Frustrating to the avid researchers, the official data does not appear to have been publicly posted yet, but the study is but one of the many efforts conducted in a partnership between BIDMC and Harvard, through their “Program in Placebo Studies & Therapeutic Encounter“(PiPS), which was established in 2011. The official released statement and analysis can be read here.

The longstanding theory behind the so-called “placebo effect” is that this effect only can take place when a patient is unaware of the placebo’s true efficacy (i.e. that it does not work). However, theologians, metaphysicists, and philosophers throughout history have long considered the deeper implications behind the observable mechanisms of the placebo. The learned man has understood for quite some time that the subtle line between placebo “trickery” and conscious extra-senses is abstracted by a mere metaphorical curtain—and all a person need do is pull on this curtain to find this two-way street.

This two-way street, is the basis of not only more esoteric ideas such as entity evocation/invocation, but also the foundations of ancient medicine, transcendental meditation, and authentic shamanism; and in modern society: neuroplasticity, and hypnotherapy often enacted with Neuro-Linguistic Programming.


In this context, placebo goes hand in hand with the idea of “fetish” in an etymological sense of the word. The medicine man created his medicine through enacting altered states of consciousness within the patient, by proxy of seemingly mundane physical items—such as a wooden staff, carved and dressed with feathers, beads, and sinew. A fetish, at its fundamental definition, is the idea of taking mundane objects or concepts and, through symbolism, achieving a completely different use of these objects or concepts that is separate from their mundane qualities. Taken from an article on the matter written by, and quoted from senior author Ted Kaptchuk, director of the Program for Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School:

“These findings turn our understanding of the placebo effect on its head… This new research demonstrates that the placebo effect is not necessarily elicited by patients’ conscious expectation that they are getting an active medicine, as long thought. Taking a pill in the context of a patient-clinician relationship – even if you know it’s a placebo – is a ritual that changes symptoms and probably activates regions of the brain that modulate symptoms.”

Especially coming from such classical collegiate realms known for their elitism (both Harvard and BIDMC), the open consideration of the ritual, even in a general sense, is quite interesting. Of course, this isn’t meant to necessarily imply villainy here, and could even be a step in the right direction for the scientific community.

The results of this study and the overall work done at PiPS hold vast and un-developed implications for fields of interest such as homeopathy and herbalism, and any other holistic medicine, and even allopathic medicine. More development in this field may be a revolutionary shift—a shift that points directly to the esoteric and concepts found in ancient medicine—a shift that will likely not be readily accepted by the Big Pharma medical industry as it has become today.

Ultimately, the implications of placebo do not indicate that any and all medicine are useless aside from the psychological trigger that they provide—but rather, that there is a much deeper, analogous relationship between the concept of the bio-chemical reaction and the psychological trigger (or, essentially, altered states of consciousness) than was previously given credit for.



Anthony Tyler
A journalist and author from Anchorage, Alaska, Anthony Tyler aims to twist the knife in both phony new-age ideals and scientific materialism by drawing attention to the rich heritage of esoteric science throughout history. Far from being “satanist,” the esoteric (i.e. occultism or comparative religion) marks the beginning of mathematics, astronomy, psychology, medicine, and even politics. Esoteric science represents a cache of little-known knowledge detailing how to decipher the human's unconscious mind--and the unconscious mind is essentially everything that the human mind is not considering at any given moment.

One Reply to “New Study Finds Placebo Effective Even When Patients Are Aware Of It

  1. Anthony,
    Well written article and I get your point but it may be good to know that 50 years of publish research shows definitively that the practice of Transcendental Meditation produces measurable and predictible effects way beyond what a placebo, hypnosis, auto suggestion, or neural entrainment could ever produce. From that point of view, TM does not have much or anything to do with a placebo effect.
    Blaze Compton
    National TM/Prison Project Coordinator
    for the David Lynch Foundation

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