Even though medical researchers told Chuck Park that he might be getting a sugar pill, the 30-year-old software producer was pretty sure he was getting the real thing. Just a few weeks into the clinical trial, Park’s depression started to lift. He began to feel less anxious and sad. So when Park learned he’d been taking a placebo all along, it was a surprise. ‘I was fully expecting to receive the real drug even though I knew that the placebo was a possibility,’ remembers Park of Culver City, Calif. ‘I guess I wanted it to work - and in a way, it did. For years, scientists have looked at the placebo effect as just a figment of overactive patient imaginations. Sure, dummy medications seemed to curb epileptic seizures, lower blood pressure, soothe migraines and smooth out jerky movements in Parkinson’s - but these people weren’t really better. Or so scientists thought. Now, using PET scanners and MRIs to peer into the heads of patients who respond to sugar pills, researchers have discovered that the placebo effect is not ‘all in patients’ heads’ but rather, in their brains. New research shows that belief in a dummy treatment […]

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