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Drug benefits could all be in the mind

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Drug benefits could all be in the mind

The benefits of pharmaceuticals may all be in the mind—quite literally. A placebo, or dummy drug, works just as well as a painkiller in reducing pain, and will even make the same physical changes to areas of the brain linked to pain management.

If a placebo can have such profound effects, it could also be the case that a patient’s mind is having as big an influence with an actual pharmaceutical—and so it’s the patient’s state of mind that will determine whether any pill, placebo or otherwise, will work.

Scientists at Dartmouth College monitored the brains of 600 people who were in pain as they were given a placebo. They took 20 different images of their brains and discovered there were clear and significant changes in the areas of the brain associated with pain.

Those who reported the most pain reduction also had the biggest changes to areas of the brain that respond to pain, including the thalamus and the basal ganglia, the researchers discovered. “The placebo can affect what you do with the pain. . .it’s changing the circuitry,” said researcher Tor Wager.

(Source: Nature Communications, 2021; 12: doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-21179-3)

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Article Topics: Basal ganglia, brain
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