Rethinking the “Gold Standard” of Placebos

| January 24, 2020

Summary of “The End of Placebos is in Sight” by Matthew Chapman, For decades, placebos have been considered the “gold standard” of control arms for clinical trials as a means of measuring the efficacy of new treatments. Doctors and scientists speak of placebo-controlled experiments in such a matter-of-fact way that the standard has come to be understood as somewhat of a given. In Podcast Episode 481, Professor Cristina Sanchez, a molecular biologist from Compultense University, confirms that unless a clinical trial is both double-blind and placebo-controlled, the information from that study is not useful. Similarly, when asked about double-blind, placebo-controlled experiments in Podcast Episode 476, Jeff Chen, Director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, responds in the affirmative by saying, “That’s what we need.” In the context of medical cannabis, for which research has been severely under-conducted, utilizing the vastly accepted gold standard can certainly seem like the best option for establishing some much-needed credibility. However, due to the shortcomings of placebos and to the emergence of a new type of control arm, the placebo era may be coming to an end in the near future. One of the major downfalls of using placebos in clinical trials is the simple fact that patients placed in the placebo group don’t actually receive treatment; as well, they will never know whether or not they were placed in the placebo group, even after the clinical trial is complete. Though the scientific community may argue this to be a necessary evil that will help future …

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