Pharmaceutical companies and doctors are worried. The fact that fake pills help, sometimes as well or better than real pills, is creating panic and problems in the various "feel-good" businesses.
Whenever there's talk about placebos, the story of a nurse, during World War II is told. The nurse, because they were out of supplies, injected a wounded soldier with salt water, telling him it was morphine. That it relieved the soldier's agony and prevented the onset of shock amazed everyone.
Do we fool ourselves? Yes. You take a medicine, not knowing it's a placebo (Latin; the verb placebo means "I shall please"), and if the Doctor says you'll feel better, you very likely will feel better.
There's also a nocebo effect. (Latin, the verb nocere" means "to do harm.") A nocebo response is an actual negative outcome. For instance, if the ad for the medication mentions side effects, such as vomiting, or nausea, you may vomit and be nauseous after taking the placebo (sugar pill).
The feel-good doctor business has been front page news ever since the death of Michael Jackson, who was helped, succored, and medicated by the now infamous Dr. Murray who was living with Jackson, and injecting medications that should only be given in a hospital.
Elvis had his Dr. Nick, who provided him with pills; Anna Nicole got prescriptions here and there using her real name, Vickie Lynn Marshall, as well as her friends' and lawyer's names -- the postmortems on both turned up 14 drugs for Elvis, 9 for Anna -- more than enough drugs to kill a horse or human.
Jack Kennedy and his constant pain were helped by the world renown Dr. Max Jacobson, who injected him with concoctions of amphetamines; Jackie, also, was Dr. Max's patient -- his injections helped her get through her husband's funeral.
What was in the concoction? According to William Bryk's article in the NY Sun -- and what was told to me personally by some of his patients -- it was various neural energizers known as speed, mixed with multivitamins, steroids, enzymes, hormones, and solubilized placenta, bone marrow, and animal organ cells.
I met Dr Max when JC and I arrived in Boston (very hush-hush). We were staying in Alan J. Lerner's suite, while he stayed on his yacht with Dr. Max. Lerner, the man who wrote "My Fair Lady," wanted JC to rehearse one week and replace the French movie actor Louis Jourdan as the leading man, in "On a Clear Day" (the musical, lyrics by Alan, music by Burton Lane).
I was pregnant. Dr Max liked me and offered, in a kindly, paternal way, to help me through the long hours of hanging around in the background.
It was a whirlwind; we were ensconced in Lerner's hotel suite, where jC was actually rehearsing with the director and choregrapher. The rooms were littered with empty, inch-high injection bottles and syringes.
Everyone was being helped by Dr. Max -- the tailor who was making JC gorgeous costumes (5 sports jackets), Lerner, choreographer Herb Ross, director Bobby Lewis raved about how wonderful he made them feel , mentioning (in a whisper) other celebrities whom "Miracle Max" was helping -- Judy Garland, Aretha Franklin, Oleg Cassini, Marlene Dietrich, Anythony Quinn, Tennessee Williams ... on and on went the list.
During the nights we spent in Alan's suite, the phone rang -- long distance calls from all over the world ... desperate patients, begging, crying, even screaming for Dr. Max to help them -- send them stuff or they'd die.
The 1989 biography, "A Woman Named Jackie," by C. David Heymann, talks about Jackie's injections when she was decorating the White House, and quotes Truman Capote, another patient, who said: 'Instant euphoria. You feel like Superman. You're flying. Ideas come at the speed of light. You go 72 hours straight without so much as a coffee break. You don't need sleep, you don't need nourishment. If it's sex you're after, you go all night. Then you crash -- it's like falling down a well...You go running back to [Miracle Max]. You're looking for the German mosquito, the insect with the magic pinprick. He stings you, and all at once you're soaring again.'
Did JC take it? NO. He drank, but he never did, nor ever has been involved with feel good pills.
Did I let Dr. Max Help me? No. I'd taken amphetamines on the road--when I had to drive all night and dance the next morning. They saved my life (I thought) because the guy who 'd been hired to drive the carbus was a terrible driver. I did take speed for at performance at BAM (Bklyn Academy of Music), because I drove all night to get there from our performance in Ohio the night before.
It was wow -- dancing on air! I did everything more so, better, fearlessly. I was wonderful (I thought).
A few days later I realized my ability to judge myself was gone. My fabulous pirouettes, my spectacularly high split leaps were fabulous and spectacularly high in my mind. The reality was -- a few little flubs ... a jiggle, a misstep, an improvisation when I almost stumbled ... a place where I need to be perfectly poised and I wasn't.
Others with whom I've discussed speed, and other feel better, feel great pills ... we all agree, the trip down from the high is bad. Depressing, so darkly depressing that it isn't worth it.
These days I can get myself high with my mind -- with what I say to myself, repeat to myself -- sometimes even, I say things over and over and brain-wash myself.
Yes, it's possible to defeat placebo benefits and overcome nocebo problems by being aware of them. Mind, in other words, it's MIND over mind.
James Brown singing "I Feel Good" says what I feel when I'm dancing.