Placebo and the Philosophy of Mind and Matter in Drug Research

A placebo is a non-therapeutic substance administered under the camouflage of medication to deceive patients into believing that they are receiving medications; this done solely for psychological and not for physiological effects. Placebo may usually be used to compare its effects with the effects of other drugs in drug research.

Let's take the case of an experiment that tries to establish whether a particular drug, say to treat weariness, is genuine or merely has the effects of a placebo. Suppose 20 candidates are chosen for this experiment. 10 are given the drug and the rest are put on a placebo while they are told that the placebo is a genuine medication. They need to make sure that the deception is well carried on for the success of the experiment. If both the groups make similar improvements after taking the treatments, the new drug seems to only function as a placebo in effect.

The basic hypothesis of the placebo raises the question of mind over matter. Of course, this pushes the question into the domain of philosophy. If the dualism is strongly affirmed, one implication can also be that sometimes physiologically active drugs may not be effective when hindered by psychological conditions.

But, what is the nature of this "dualism"? Is there a limit of interaction? How far can one push the mind? Is it ethically justifiable to deceive patients to use placebo? How can knowing (even being deceived) affect therapy? What is the nature of faith and its relation to therapy?

Researchers continue to probe these questions.