In addition to therapy being an alternative for antidepressants, there is the possible substitute to a daily dosed drug, placebos. A placebo is a substance such as a pill or shot that doesn’t contain any medicine. Placebos are typically used in clinical trials and used as a control for the testing of a real new medication. The main reason a trial has a placebo group is to ensure that any effects that happen are actually caused by the treatment and not some other factors.
Many believe that the placebo effect serves no beneficial purpose and only occurs because the patient believes in the substance, the treatment, or the doctor. But this isn’t the case, placebos do in fact produce a beneficial purpose. The cause of the placebo effect is due to the psychological aspects of the brain. Psychology Today states in an article, “… the placebo effect is the product of chemical changes. Numerous studies have supported the conclusion that endorphins [hormones associated with the brain and nervous system that serves as the body’s naturally made painkillers] in the brain produce the placebo effect.
In patients with chronic pain, for example, placebo responders were found to have higher concentrations of endorphins in their spinal fluid than placebo nonresponders. ” (Faith Brynie PhD, The Placebo Effect: How it Works) There is evidence to suggest that what a patient expects from real medicines can influence how a patient feels after the medicine is taken. People who are given a placebo may report improvements in symptoms, sometimes even when they know they’re taking something that doesn’t contain real medicine. When someone takes antidepressants, there are high chances of many side effects.
Common side effects to antidepressants can vary from suicidal thoughts, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, and increase or decrease in appetite. (Arthur Allen, Coping With Side Effects of Depression Treatment) The side effects of taking antidepressants can possibly cause someone’s depression to worsen. Not only that, but if a person were to stop taking their antidepressants, it is highly possible for that person to relapse and later on have major to severe depression. If a person feels better after taking a placebo, it doesn’t mean the person’s illness or symptoms were not real.
A person may feel less anxious so their hormones will drop. The placebo effect is self fulfilling prophecy; it follows the patterns a person would predict if the brain were, indeed, producing its own desired outcomes and can work just as or more effective than the use of an antidepressant. There have been many studies behind the use of placebos and whether they are effective or not. The National Institute of Health posted an article explaining what placebos were and how they were conducted in a study by a team lead by Dr. Jon-Kar Zubieta, a doctor of medicine from the University of Utah, to test the use of a placebos in antidepressants.
In this study, the group of scientists enrolled 35 people who suffered from major depression and were currently not taking any medications. The participants were randomly assigned to receive placebo pills that were described as a fast acting antidepressant. One group received a pill that was told to work as a depressant and contained medication, the active placebo group. The other group were given an identical pill but was told it actually a placebo with no medication, the inactive placebo group.
Each group took their pills for a whole week, then after a few days, the groups switched. At the end of each week of treatment, the participants completed a questionnaire about their depression symptoms. Every participant underwent a PET brain scan to measure the activity of their opioid receptors, known to be involved in emotion, stress, social rewards, and depression. During the scan, the active placebo group’s participants shown to have numerous doses of saline with the understanding that it would activate brain systems involved in mood improvement.
The inactive group’s participants shown no doses during the scan. The researchers found that the participants reported a significant decrease in depression symptoms when they took the active placebo compared to when they took the inactive placebo. In short, the group that received a pill and believed that it would work as a fasting acting antidepressant, showed in scans of the brain that psychologically the participants created their own form of antidepressant by the use endorphins in their body. The group that knew they were taking placebos had little to no effect at all.
Dr. Jon-Kar Zubieta states in the article, “These results suggest that some people are more responsive to the intention to treat their depression. ” Placebos can take the role of antidepressants and help the brain do its natural magic without the fear of experiencing side effects from antidepressants. While as though there have been many studies to show the positives of placebos, there have also been debates against the use of them, stating how they aren’t as effective and don’t have the similar outcomes to real and genuine antidepressants.
One of the arguments between the two sides is that placebos may not have a long term effect compared to actual antidepressants. The effects of a placebo releases the body’s relieving factors and some say that these positive effects only last a short amount of time and has no long term impact. Since the body naturally releases its own kind of painkiller and relief, it’s thought that these endorphins can only work for a short period of time.
If someone were prescribed to take medications that was thought to be working antidepressants rather than in reality only being placebos, the patient wouldn’t have long lasting effects of their endorphins throughout the day. The most hard hitting debate over placebos and antidepressants is that placebos can be seen to be unethical. For example, in earlier times placebos were sometimes given by doctors out of frustration or desperation, because nothing else was available or seemed to work.
A 2008 study found that nearly half of the doctors polled said that they used a placebo when they felt that it might help the patient feel better. (American Cancer Society medical content team) Isn’t it wrong for doctors to prescribe and charge their patients a pill that has no medication in it at all? Not to mention, lie to their patients. This argument has been brought up many times to the people who are in favor of placebos. Should there be some sort of restriction for doctors to prescribe placebos to their patients without their knowledge?
For the people who argue that placebos are unethical, yes. Above all, there are many ways to cure and lessen a person’s depression; ranging from antidepressants, therapy, and placebos. But out of all the different methods there are to help with depression, placebos and therapy are the best options. With therapy, especially cognitive therapy, it’s quick compared to other methods, it provides a better long term effect, and decreases the chance of ever experiencing a relapse.
Placebos help produce the development of the body’s natural endorphins and can end the side effects of antidepressants. For some people the combination of both placebos and therapy can actually create a greater benefit to rid or lessen their depression. The types of therapy are endless and people who suffer from depression can discover a type of therapy that works best for them and if needed, use a placebo to assist their depression. There are better opportunities,and better outcomes when someone uses the alternatives of antidepressants.