The Placebo Effect

“It’s just the placebo effect.” The placebo effect is when you think a treatment is real, but it doesn’t actually have therapeutic value.

It would be like if I bottled up my tap water and told my neighbours, “Try my fresh water. It’s natural and packed with an essential nutrient.” After drinking it, they reported feeling more energized compared to drinking their usual water, which came from the same source, and was in fact, just plain water.

We would see this example as a waste of money. Why would we pay more for bottled water when we can access the same water from the tap?

In research, it happens when participants think a fake treatment is real and feel better, even though it was nothing more than a sugar pill.

We tend to think of the placebo effect as a sham. Trickery. Snake oil. We were fooled.

But really, it depends on how we see things. We can use the placebo effect as our ally.

I didn’t see the positive side of the placebo effect until I watched the documentary “The Connection.” One study from the documentary that stood out found that morphine was more effective when patients knew they took it compared to those who didn’t know. How could a drug be more effective when people knew they were taking it? Likewise, how can a drug make you feel better when it’s fake?

What the documentary showed me was the importance of expectations. What you expect treatment to do can shape the impact it has, even if it’s only on the way you feel. Believing treatment will work can make you feel better. We aren’t just passive recipients. We can take an active role in our health. And it’s easy to do.

Imagine using this belief, this superpower, and combining it with cancer treatment. A simple example from my experience is when I told my cancer, “Look out. I’m coming to get you” in my most badass inner voice during radiation therapy.

Or when I put a hand on my chest and give my immune system a pep talk, “The cancer is right here. It’s hard to see. Cancer is tricky. But I know you can find it. You can do it.” Imagine yourself talking to a good friend who needs your help. What would you say?

Take that inner voice further and visualize your immune system shooting down cancer cells, “pew pew pew” with giant laser guns. To me, giant laser guns make perfect sense but something else could resonate more with you.

What an incredible tool we have, so readily available and costs nothing, that can help in our fight against cancer.

In the end, even if all it does is make me feel better. If using my inner voice makes me feel like I’m doing something to fight cancer. If it helps me focus on what I can do, rather than what I can’t. If it’s something that gives me hope, then the placebo effect is working.

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