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Johns Hopkins Magazine

"I'm the doctor and you're the patient: I tell you I'm giving you something to make you feel better. You take it and, sure enough, you do feel better. Yet there's nothing in what I gave you to account for it. Maybe it's an injection of salt solution, which can relieve severe surgical pain by no physiological mechanism known to medical science. Or a sugar pill, which logically, pharmacologically, or any other way can have no effect, for good or ill, on the common cold. But it does anyhow: That's the placebo effect.

"Like other medicines, a placebo may or may not work; the 'placebo effect' is what happens when it does. ... It is, in short, the form of treatment without its substance; yet it can achieve substantive results.

"Once, of course, placebos were virtually the only treatment physicians prescribed. ... They purged their patients, punctured them, blistered them, bled them, froze them, and shocked them. Remarkably, patients kept coming back for more. Came back because they wound up feeling better.

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Ultimate trend: finding the "great Physician"
March 5, 1984

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