Intended for healthcare professionals


Placebo mania

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 19 October 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1008

Placebos are essential when extent and variability of placebo response are unknown

  1. Henry Mcquay, Clinical reader in pain relief,
  2. Andrew Moore, Consultant biochemist
  1. Pain Research and Nuffield Department of Anaesthetics, University of Oxford, Oxford Radcliffe Hospital, Churchill Headington, Oxford OX3 7LJ

    EDITOR,—We need placebo controlled trials1 because responses to placebo are remarkably variable. Figure 1 shows the results of randomised double blind trials of anticonvulsants,2 antidepressants,3 and topical capsaicin4 in painful diabetic neuropathy. The proportion of patients in whom the active drug relieved at least 50% of the pain is plotted against the proportion in whom placebo relieved at least 50% of the pain. The active treatments achieved this degree of pain relief in 50–90% of the patients, while placebo did so in …

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