Placebos Release Opiates

This is the first of many posts to come from my reading of Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century, a tome from the Esalen Institute arguing from a variety of angles that the mind is an entity distinct from the physical brain.

You may have seen some of the crazy facts about placebos, but this one hit me hard: a 1978 study gave wisdom-tooth surgery patients a placebo. Some found their pain reduced; others did not. Then they were all given naloxone, which counteracts opiate effects. Patients who had experienced pain relief from the placebo found their pain returned; the rest were unaffected. In the end, everyone felt the same amount of pain.

This means that the placebo’s pain-relieving effect was almost entirely the result of the body’s natural release of opiates, the chemical family including morphine, codeine, and heroin. So the placebo effect isn’t just psychological: take a sugar pill, and your brain puts you on drugs.

~ by Grant on July 2, 2012.

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Markoff Chaney says:

That would seem to counteract the thesis of the book, no? It implies that the mind, and our physical sensation of pain, really is a reflection of a physical, chemical process.

Grant says:

The author then asks, how does a belief in the efficacy of a pill cause an organ to squirt chemicals? That step in the mind-body problem remains unexplained.