Just a Spoonful of Sugar: The Placebo Effect

Oct 27, 2010 by

Just a Spoonful of Sugar: The Placebo Effect

Mary Poppins, Nanny Extraordinaire, quickly had her young charges believing that cleaning their room could be magical and fun. In essence, she gave them the placebo effect!

Any “sugar” treatment that we believe to be real medicine is called a placebo.

Throughout human history, lots and lots of people have been cured of serious illnesses after they’ve taken SUGAR PILLS, all the while believing that their sugar pill was actually medicine.

And that’s the awesome power of the placebo effect.


Until the early 1900s, the most common medical practice performed by doctors was blood-letting (deliberately cutting the skin open and draining large amounts of blood).

And patients LET their doctors do this to them.

That’s probably why it’s called blood-LETTING.

Since there wasn’t much actual medicine available, they also LET their doctors treat their wounds with arsenic and prescribe rattlesnake oil drinks for lots of other things.

And yet, at least one third (maybe more) of our ancestors who were seriously ill got better, simply because they believed that letting their doctor bleed them, or drinking something really disgusting, would heal them.

Mary Poppins would surely agree that they were on the right track.

In fact today, if you truly believed on every level that chewing on waterbugs would cure your asthma, you’d have about a 50/50 chance that it would work!

“makes the medicine go down, the medicine go dow-wown, medicine go down.”

In modern studies, sugar pills and other placebos have successfully alleviated pain, depression, anxiety, diseases, inflammatory disorders, and even some cancers.

The U.S. Dept of Health (the ultimate in Consensus Reality) reports that 50% of severely depressed people get better if they take an antidepressant like Prozac. This same agency also reports that 32% of depressed people get better if they take a sugar pill they THINK is an antidepressant.

One woman who participated in an antidepressant study was cured after 30 years of debilitating depression. But she was on sugar pills the whole time! She was totally shocked when she found out, because she even experienced side effects! And her brain scans actually showed huge before-and-after differences.

Then there are also PLACEBO SURGERIES.

A big study was done with patients with severe, debilitating knee pain. Some groups of these patients had knee surgery, and most people improved.

The real surgery really helped.

But there was also a group that had a totally fake, Placebo Surgery.

Those patients were sedated, and given standard incisions in their knees. During the surgery, Dr. Just-Kidding talked and acted authentically, including all the appropriate sound effects, and then sewed them back up without doing anything at all.

Yes! The placebo surgery group’s knees improved just as much as the real surgery groups!

Mary wouldn’t be surprised.


In studies, real surgeries are performed to implant dopamine into the brains of Parkinson’s patients, who suffer from a lack of it. This surgery really helps to improve the quality of life for some people.

But FAKE Brain Surgeries are also performed. Those patients don’t get any dopamine. All they get is having their brains opened up and exposed to the air.

Hannibal Lecter, the Anti-Mary, comes to mind.

In other words, their brains only THINK they’re getting a dopamine implant.

But whether the surgery is real or fake, all the patients do just about as well.

What seems to matter isn’t the implant itself, but that patients’ brains THINK they’ve gotten it.


“Yes, definitely, I WOULD like to sign up for a brain surgery that might be totally fake.”

Well, that’s the ULTIMATE Mary.

“You see, in every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and snap! The job’™s a game!”

All this points to the fact that when you believe something, your biology sometimes appears to adapt very effectively.

Our beliefs seem to act as filters, just the way a pair of colored sunglasses filters the light to our eyes, changing how we see and experience the world.

The human brain cannot deal with conflicting information unless it can be integrated, so it picks one side of the conflict, and then suppresses everything that does not fit with that dominant belief. Just like sunglasses, our beliefs only let certain information in, and block out anything that conflicts with that position.

That’s why a person who believes they are stupid will see confirmation of their stupidity everywhere, even if there is enormous evidence to the contrary.

The brain leaves very little room for doubt.

Those blinders work in our favor in many ways, like when we decide, say, to walk across hot coals with bare feet at a Firewalk. If there was ever a time when you don’t want any kind of internal conflict, this would be it.

I take it back. THIS is the ULTIMATE Mary.

“And every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake. A lark, a spree, it’s very clear to see!”

A deeply held belief can create one’s reality.

The way we look at something changes the thing we’re looking at. (And that’s what quantum physics tells us too, by the way.)

What a message! Think what we’ll be able to do in the world when we learn how to effectively harness that truth! (Sweet.)

The power of belief may be only a small piece of the enormous complexities of healing illness in the human body. But it may also hold one of the keys to freedom from suffering.

Cleaning our rooms may still not always be fun, but Mary Poppins demonstrates something to us all that is much, much sweeter, the healing power of belief.

So, what might have happened if our ancestors hadn’t whole-heartedly believed in blood-letting? (That would have been called blood-KEEPING, and it sounds like a pretty good idea to me.)

Well, thank goodness they did believe, or lots of us wouldn’t be here now!

Mary Poppins, you were way ahead of your time.

“In a most delightful way!”

Get Ignited!

Christine Ranck is the author of Ignite The Genius Within

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