Placebo or Active Substance

I don’t know about you, but this is a topic that has fascinated me for years, and during the last few I’ve been attempting to find a way to describe and explain why I believe we (body and mind) have the capacity to manage many diagnoses through an active substance that isn’t a medication. It’s drawn me to read the likes of Joe Dispenza’s work, and in particular “You are the placebo“, then work part-time for the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine. Several years ago, as part of my ongoing work with the Primary care and Community Neurology Society and the Community Therapists Network, we invited the great Edzard Ernst to give a talk on the placebo – he, not surprising was brilliant to listen to.

Anyway, this week following a post I put up on my LinkedIn profile, which some of you may have seen and perhaps replied to and was in response to a published paper that just ‘got under my skin’, I felt compelled to think some more, and so this is my attempt to describe what I’ve wanted to say for years. I’ll be interested to see if it makes sense to others:

When the sun shines it triggers our body and mind to respond. Depending on the time of year, if you are out in the sun too long it will cause your skin to burn. It will also trigger a rise in melatonin and as we know, that is linked to our sleep.

What that says, to me anyway, is our bodies have a natural ‘responder’ mechanism already in situ and all it takes is a natural stimulus ie the suns rays, to trigger it. In most cases, depending on genetics, that mechanism to respond has been in place from the day we were born.

If I now relate that ‘logic’ to the use of medication: all I believe we are proving by using a medication is that our body already had a natural mechanism in place to respond (before the pill was taken) and therefore, if that natural mechanism is already in place, we already have the potential through body and mind to produce the natural molecule or molecules that sit in the ‘receptors’ to then trigger the response that we need. ie it was there before the pharmaceutical industry produced the drug.

Let me stress at this point: anyone reading this who is taking medication for any condition should not stop taking medication without the advice of a skilled practitioner. I am also not suggesting that anyone who is being treated for the likes of cancer should go against their medical advice. I am simply wishing people to give some thought to how they may be able to help themselves along with the treatment they may have to take, because the combination approach could make things more effective.

I hope what I have said so far makes sense. But perhaps if I use an example of a pain medication, which I have described before, with a few friends:

When someone is prescribed a Cannabinoid for pain, we know there can be a significant placebo response in trials. As many of you reading this will know, our body functions naturally by using something called the endocannabinoid system.

To quote wikipedia: “The endocannabinoid system is a biological system composed of endocannabinoids, which are endogenous lipid-based retrograde neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors, and cannabinoid receptor proteins that are expressed throughout the vertebrate central nervous system and peripheral nervous system.”

So when a placebo is given and a response is recorded, what I believe is happening is the strong ‘belief’ and ‘hope’ that the person has that they are being treated is actually leading them to be ‘treated’ by their own endocannabinoids, which are already ‘swimming around’ in the body, and that they are triggering the relief of pain.

To conclude this short article, I believe lifestyle medicine, is an approach that demonstrates the immense power that comes from connecting mind and body. In some cases lifestyle medicine is needed to help people to strengthen that connection and in other cases reconnect mind and body. This is because it may have become weakened or even divided due to a trauma at some point in their life.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and I do hope it is useful to someone out there, but please, as I have already stressed, don’t take this to mean you should stop taking medication. Your thinking may just help to enhance its impact.