Causes Of The Placebo Effect And Side Effects Of Placebo Pills

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Placebo pills are used commonly in clinical trials to help researchers know more about the physiological and psychological effects of new medications. They generate an effect known as the placebo effect. Placebo pills are pills of no medical effects which look just like the new medications. 

Placebo pills are given to some of the people participating in a trial, while the others are given the new medication with them not knowing any better. Changes to these people are then recorded, so as to determine if the pills do work or only bring about a psychological effect. Depending on what the person expects, placebo pills may bring about positive or negative effects. We discuss some causes of the placebo effect and side effects of placebo pills.

Causes Of Placebo Effect

Administering placebo pills to a person may induce the placebo effect. If a person believes a placebo pill will help them, then their minds will trick them into believing the pill is actually helping them. But why do people experience real changes due to these fake pills? We discuss some causes:

  • Hormonal response is chiefly responsible. Taking placebo pills may induce the release of endorphins which are like naturally produced painkillers. Hence, the patient actually has pain reliefs. Brain scans have shown that areas containing opiate receptors are activated in both groups of people.
  • Conditioning of a patient may also cause the placebo effect. If you’ve always been prescribed medication to relieve your stiff joint, you may ultimately associate the pill with pain relief. Hence, when you’re administered a placebo lookalike, you’ll get the belief it provides the pain relief effect of the original medication.
  • Expectation of the patient also matters. If a patient believes the pill will work, then they are more likely to experience a placebo effect. If the physician is also optimistic about the chance of the pill being effective, then the patient will experience those positive placebo effects.

Effects Of Placebo Pills

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There are no medically proven side effects of taking placebo pills. The placebo effect induced may however have the patient feeling nauseous. Here are some of the effects:

  • Nausea: If the person taking a placebo pill already attributes the pill to being nauseous, then it is more likely for the person to get nauseous after taking the pill.
  • Depression: Placebo pills labelled as antidepressants have been studied to actually decrease depression symptoms in patients.


Placebo pills are lookalikes of new medications; they have no medical effects. They only induce the placebo effect in patients who take them. Placebo effect has the patient actually experiencing real health changes after being administered these pills. We discuss some causes of the placebo effect and side effects of placebo pills

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