A little knowledge really is a dangerous thing…

This is dangerous: Half Of A Drug’s Power Comes From Thinking It Will Work

I’m certain I’ve commented on this, or something extremely similar, a couple of years ago.** see footnote I felt it was dangerous then, and my opinion hasn’t changed.

Which is to say that this research, might well be perfectly valid as it relates specifically to migraine, which is notoriously difficult to treat and, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t even have a specific cause, but it cannot be safely extrapolated, as the article strongly suggests, to embrace other conditions or, by association, other drugs.

I know one  sufferer from very severe migraine who appears to be no worse off taking no drugs at all, than taking migraine drugs that mess her up in other ways but otherwise do little or nothing to ease her pain.

By the way, anyone who believes asthma to be a “subjective condition” as the writer of the above article apparently does, is clearly ill-informed. Put that to an asthma sufferer face to face – and be prepared to duck or count your teeth!

I have had asthma since the age of 2, and I can assure you there is absolutely nothing subjective about it for me or for most sufferers.

That “psychosomatic asthma” (or subjective, or psychological, call it what you will), exists has been a popular belief for many years. If  such people do actually exist they are a small, perhaps extremely small, percentage of the total. In my entire life I have known just one person who might fit that description. Or not. Nor, as far as I can see from their websites, do the NHS or major support groups acknowledge its existence.

I also – among much else these days (see this post, near the end)  – have had bronchiectasis since the same age, with the same cause (simultaneous measles and whooping cough, which severely damaged my lungs – that objective enough for you?), and which leaves me very susceptible to repeated respiratory infections which, in turn, seriously worsens my asthma.

In my case it’s not over-egging the pudding to say that for as long as they’ve been available to the public, antibiotics have kept me alive. And that’s longer than most people realise – Penicillin, the first antibiotic, became available to the general population in the UK in about 1953, though it was in use in the US long before. Prior to that we had sulphonamides, in my case M&B693 which, intriguingly is now described as an antibiotic; strictly speaking I suppose it was, but not as we understand the term today.

However, no amount of belief, or disbelief, on my part concerning the efficacy, or otherwise, of these drugs would have the slightest effect on their bactericidal properties (they have no effect on viruses, as these are not, in the accepted use of the term, actually alive, so cannot be killed).

Likewise, whether a diabetic has faith in his or her insulin is entirely irrelevant. It will still do its job.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point – what works in one case, like migraine, might kill or injure in another. Or do nothing. And you don’t have to believe in a drug for it to be effective. And, yes, I do know insulin isn’t a drug; that doesn’t invalidate the argument.

I’m not denying that the Placebo Effect, which is extremely powerful and has been shown to work well for pain relief, exists (how else do you think sticking a handful of needles in someone works?).

The Placebo Effect occasionally trumps the real drug in medical trials, leading to red faces all round and possibly millions of pounds down the pan – assuming that particular result is released, which is often not the case. Drug companies are not famous for their openness and honesty!

What I am saying is that extravagant claims like the one in the above article  need to be treated with extreme caution. The fact that something works for one condition DOES NOT necessarily mean it’s applicable to others, no matter what the patient believes.

Many of my drugs, far from inspiring me with confidence in them, actually make me ill in different, and creative, ways, causing a marked reluctance to take them. I do so, though, because I know I would be far worse off if I didn’t, but guess what? Despite my antipathy, they still do what they’re supposed to do, clearly unaffected by my personal feelings.

That cannot, though, be extrapolated to include, well, me again (hell, I’m the case I know best, so why not?). Were I to stop all my drugs I would probably die, and painfully, too. If not I would sure as hell be in hospital being pumped full of drugs which really wouldn’t care if I believed in them or not!

And neither would I.


**I can’t access the research paper, but the abstract is here with publication dated this year, which isn’t the same as the date of the actual research, of course, and it still looks horribly familiar.


2 thoughts on “A little knowledge really is a dangerous thing…

  1. I know that there are some illnesses and some people (usually the PITA patients) that placebos are given.
    I don’t know what would happen if they took all my drugs, and John’s, away and changed them for placebos, I’m guessing that we would both fall apart and end up in hospital, or the morgue!
    Already John’s COPD is worsening, he’d die a lot sooner without the inhalers he is on and the different drugs he will eventually go on. The same with my asthma, I’d probably end up in hospital hooked up to all kinds of machines!
    I despair of these idiots taking people’s lives into their own hands to “try and prove something” when actually, they have proved nothing!

    • If John is getting worse he should already be on better drugs. Maybe O2 as well. My COPD has been more or less stable (bad enough to start with though!), since diagnosis in 1996, because of my meds. Going downhill fast now, but that’s not unexpected. The right meds, taken to a strict timetable, can stabilise COPD for a long time. Asthma needs pretty much the same meds and the same approach (except brittle asthma, about which I know very little).

      Sounds like you both need a referral to the Pulmonary Function Laboratory (quick, before it’s closed down!).

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