Lancet Psychiatry: We Are Undervaluing the Placebo Effect

A recent study of brain stimulation for depression found that the placebo group (sham treatment) showed more improvement than the group that received actual brain stimulation.

This report by Peter Simons has been published by Mad in America. It begins:

In a new article in Lancet Psychiatryresearcher Matt Burke at the University of Toronto draws attention to powerful results in the placebo group in psychiatric trials. He notes that a recent brain stimulation study for depression found that more people improved in the sham (placebo) treatment group.

‘We often ignore placebo effects as a nuisance… but the more we learn about the brain, the clearer it becomes that we have missed the boat,’ Burke wrote on Twitter.

The brain stimulation study was also published in Lancet Psychiatry and was led by Richard Morriss at the University of Nottingham, UK. In that study, all participants had moderate to severe depression and had already taken antidepressants without success, and about three-quarters had clinical anxiety as well. Strikingly, 42% of the participants achieved full remission from depression in the sham (placebo) group, compared with only 30% in the group that received actual brain stimulation.

The difference was statistically significant—favoring the placebo group—in several analyses, including ‘in self-rated depression at 4 and 16 weeks, in generalized anxiety at four weeks, and in overall health at 16 weeks.’ The results favored the placebo group in all of the analyses, even those that did not reach statistical significance.

Thus, the study showed that even after a failed trial of antidepressants, 42% of moderately to severely depressed people improved without receiving any actual treatment—and those who did receive treatment did worse …”

You can read more from here.

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