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(PSYCHIATRIC TIMES) -- Researchers have found evidence that the placebo effect is not all “in your mind.” This study, recently published in Science, suggests that the spinal column—specifically, the dorsal horn—may be involved in blocking pain after placebo has been administered. Eippert and colleagues1 examined pain reactions in 13 young, healthy men (21 to 30 years old) after applying 2 types of cream on their forearms. The participants were told that one cream was a highly effective analgesic (“lidocaine”) and the other was a control cream. In reality, both creams were identical and pharmacologically inactive; the one labeled lidocaine was used to measure the placebo response.

Participants received a series of painful heat stimulations in the areas where the creams were applied and then were asked to rate pain levels from 1 to 100 for both the “lidocaine” (ie, placebo) and control cream areas. Significantly less pain was reported for the placebo area (mean=52.3±5.9) than the control area (mean=71.1±3.1; p=0.002).

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