In clinical trials or research studies, the research team needs to be certain that the results of their trial are accurate; that the drug or treatment safe and effective. The “gold standard” for testing different treatments for different conditions is the “randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial”. This means that participants taking part in the study are randomly assigned to either receive the treatment or the placebo.
By comparing the results of these two different groups, researchers are able to effectively determine whether the effects experienced by taking the treatment are in fact true, or just occurred by chance. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, the participant, their family members, and their dedicated study care team are all “blind” to the treatment (either placebo or study treatment), while the trial is happening.
But what is a placebo?
Placebo, in Latin means “to please”. The first use of the word in English was not related to medicine at all, in fact, it was used as a part of prayer in the early 13th Century. It did not make its medical debut until about 100 years later when doctors would prescribe placebos to their patients for their psychological benefit. There was no medical or biochemical benefit, but it did provide their patients with peace of mind that their ailment was being “treated”. Fast forward another few hundred years to the mid-20th Century placebos were no longer given to patients to please them or provide peace of mind. Now, due to the demand for new treatments, leading to clinical trials and research studies, placebos are an important part of control and accuracy.
Ultimately, placebo-controlled trials have a high interval of validity and accuracy when compared with the opposite. Before deciding whether or not to take part in a clinical trial or research study, make sure you are fully informed of the rationale for the use of placebo, along with the associated risks.