The Problems with Using a Placebo to Make You Feel Better

The Problems with Using a Placebo to Make You Feel Better May 22, 2016


I recently shared a video that explained why acupuncture was ineffective and no different than a placebo. A commenter asked me what the harm was in using a placebo. If it makes people feel better, why stop it? Well, I don’t think relying on placebos for treatment is harmless for a few reasons:

1) They still cost money 

Whether it’s paying for homeopathic pills or acupuncture sessions, the placebo effect still costs money. People are still giving their money to charlatans instead of seeking out evidence-based treatments. Some people may be able to afford throwing some of their money away, but placebo effect “treatments” can cause other problems.

2) They can cause physical harm

It’s sadly common how often someone will get seriously ill and die because they tried to treat their disease without evidence-based medicine. This is the most obvious and dire consequence of using placebos instead of legitimate treatment. Even if the harm is less severe like an infected acupuncture needle, why even take the risk for something that doesn’t work?

3) They support a culture of pseudoscience

Let’s say someone finds a placebo effect that’s free and doesn’t cause them physical harm. Is there anything wrong with this? Well, I would argue it still perpetuates and legitimizes pseudoscience in our culture. If there are enough people buying homeopathy pills, stores will continue to sell them. If enough people are paying for acupuncture, acupuncturists will stay in business. When people use these placebo based treatments, it becomes culturally acceptable to not use evidence-based treatments or medicine.


These are three brief reasons why I don’t think using placebo effects are ever completely harmless. Yes, your acupuncture may make you “feel good,” but so would evidence-based activities such as meditation.  Using placebo effects and “alternative medicine” creates additional risks without even providing an actual treatment. We would all be better off using treatments that actually have some evidence to back them up.

[Featured image from video screengrab]

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