Mind Over Matter Over Mind: Cannabinoids and the Placebo Effect
The placebo effect is a pervasive medical phenomenon. It occurs when someone responds to an inert treatment or an expectation of benefit in the same way that they would respond to an actual treatment. Experts don’t know exactly how or why, but there’s no disputing that a person given a placebo — be it a sugar pill, a saline injection or even sham surgery or sham acupuncture — will often experience a perceived or real improvement in their condition.Placebos with no active drug ingredients can trigger changes in brain chemistry, heart rate, and blood pressure. A placebo can even enhance short-term memory. Brain imaging techniques have shown that placebos have a measurable impact on brain activity.
In 1955, Henry K. Beecher postulated that placebos could have clinically significant effects. Scientists researching the neurobiology of the placebo effect have since determined that placebos and drugs convey effects through common physiological pathways. Placebos reduce pain — a phenomenon known as “placebo analgesia” — by activating the body’s innate painkilling mechanisms.