July 20, 2012

ARE WARNINGS ABOUT DRUG SIDE EFFECTS making us sick? “One of the most interesting findings in the new report from Germany is about the underappreciated — and under-studied — role of nocebo effects in clinical trials. If you tell a group of trial volunteers that they’re testing a new drug that may relieve the pain of migraines, a significant number of volunteers will experience pain relief after taking the drug — even if they’ve been randomly assigned to the placebo group and are receiving nothing but sugar pills. The placebo effect in action. But here’s where it gets interesting. If you tell the volunteers that the side effects of this new medicine may include dry mouth, tingling in the hands and feet, and slight dizziness, some volunteers will experience precisely these side effects — in both groups. In fact, some volunteers who are taking nothing but sugar pills will be made so uncomfortable by these symptoms that they will choose to drop out of the trial early.”