One of my favorite Simpsons scenes of all time (and there are a LOT of them) involves a random cutaway joke from an episode involving a Japanese Osaka Flu spreading throughout Springfield. In a scene showing how dire the epidemic has become, we see the well-intentioned Dr. Hibbert addressing a panicking crowd:
Crowd: We need a cure! We need a cure! Hibbert: Ho ho ho. Why, the only cure is bedrest. Anything I give you would be a placebo. Woman: [frantic] Where can we get these placebos?
The crowd overturns a truck in search of placebos, but alas the only thing inside is a crate of killer bees. The bees converge on the crowd and they all begin to flee.
Man:[eating a bee] I'm cured! I mean...ow!* -- ``Marge in Chains''
As a psych major, there have always been certain facets of the human mind that utterly fascinate me. The placebo effect is one of them. That in any given study your control group - the people who are, by definition, not receiving any treatment at all - will always have a small percentage of people who respond to fake treatment (like a sugar pill) is amazing to me. In tons of cases people's sheer willpower to make themselves think they're being cured matches or beats out whatever drug or treatment were giving the study group.
I also just happen to love the word placebo. The way it sounds. I think I actually learned it the day I saw that episode, rolling off of Dr. Hibbert's tongue.
I learned something today I never realized before about the placebo effect. I was just reading the fine print for a new medication I started using, which I now realize I'm going to have to start doing more often*. Apparently, in a clinical trial with the topical drug I am using, Ketoconazole cream 2%, the following adverse reactions were noted:
During clinical trials 45 (5.0%) of 905 patients treated with ketoconazole cream, 2% and 5 (2.4%) of 208 patients treated with placebo reported side effects consisting mainly of severe irritation, pruritus and stinging.
That's right. 5 people receiving...I dunno, sugar cream, reported irritation, stinging, and pruritus, which I just learned is apparently "severe itching, often of undamaged skin." Apparently people also have the ability to will negative side effects from nothing onto themselves. Do these people just have really pessimistic skin? Are they attempting to work themselves up for some kind of lawsuit? Or are they just prone to break out at any time if they're in a stressful study environment?
What a wonder man is. A sad, ridiculous wonder.
Yeah, but I'd still rather be playing: Chrono Trigger! An epic time-travel-themed RPG for the SNES! (Coming soon as a remake for the Nintendo DS)
*I got this info from the "Simpsons Archive" but I actually remembered the last line from the scene, involving the man eating the bee and claming he is cured. To leave out what is effectively the punchline to the scene misses the point of transcribing it at all. Worst retelling...ever!
*Reading the fine print, not taking the medicine. That shit's for pussies.