Parkinson’s patients responded better when given an “expensive” placebo compared to a “cheap” one. The improvement in motor function approached that seen with use of levodopa. This was a study of 12 patients. The medication was an injection. They were told that both injections were active, not placebo, and that one cost $100 and the other $1500. The participants obviously were deceived – something hardly done in research – but the study was approved after extensive ethics reviews.

The study was published in Neurology, January 28th. An editorial in that edition pointed out that this price-driven placebo effect is similar to what happens with shoppers who are drawn to high-priced designer items.

This information comes on the heels of recent surprising placebo studies for migraine. Patients were given rizatriptan or placebo but were told that the rizatriptan was placebo and the placebo was the active drug. The patients who received the active drug but thought it was placebo did not respond whereas the patients who received placebo but thought it was the active drug did. A subset of patients received placebo and were told it was placebo and yet responded. They explained that they did not believe the Dr. would actually give them an ineffective treatment.

Jack Florin, MD

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