A new study claims that a sugar pill can be as effective as any drug in the market to cure chronic pain. The scientists at Northwestern University in the US have shown they can reliably predict which chronic pain patients will respond to a sugar placebo pill based on the patients’ brain anatomy and psychological characteristics.
“Their brain is already tuned to respond,” said A Vania Apkarian, a professor at Northwestern University. “They have the appropriate psychology and biology that puts them in a cognitive state that as soon as you say, ‘this may make your pain better,’ their pain gets better,” Apkarian said. “You can tell them, ‘I’m giving you a drug that has no physiological effect but your brain will respond to it,'” he said. Researchers state that it is better to give patients an active drug rather than an inactive one. "A sugar pill prescription for chronic pain patients would result in vast cost savings for patients and the healthcare system," Apkarian said. As part of the study conducted, about 60 chronic back pain patients were randomised into two arms of the study.
One arm of patients subjects did not know if they got the drug or the placebo. The other study arm included people who came to the clinic but did not get a placebo or drug. The individuals whose pain decreased as a result of the sugar pill had a similar brain anatomy and psychological traits. The right side of their emotional brain was larger than the left, and they had a larger cortical sensory area than people who were not responsive to the placebo, researchers said.