Placebos–medical treatments that contain no active ingredients–have triggered an outbreak of controversy (SN: 2/03/01, p. 74: Medicinal Mimicry). Some researchers regard placebos as surprisingly powerful, at least when given to people who believe in their effectiveness. Other scientists say that studies have yet to confirm the value of placebos in treating any illness.
A new study, published in the May American Journal of Psychiatry, offers ammunition to the pro-placebo crowd. In a small group of depressed patients, those whose condition improved after taking placebo pills for 6 weeks displayed many of the same brain changes observed in people who benefited from an antidepressant drug, report psychiatrist Helen Mayberg of the University of Toronto and her coworkers.
The researchers studied 17 men, all hospitalized for major depression, who received either Prozac or a placebo for 6 weeks. Despair, sleep difficulties, and oth