Clinical trials are studies in which scientists conduct a drug or medical test on a human subject to find ways to improve a drug or treat a disease. A placebo, which in its simplest terms is fake medication or treatment, is often used in these trials so that the scientists have a control group to compare the results of the experimental group with. This allows them to fully note and make records of any change the true medication evokes. If scientists were to conduct an experimental drug trial without a control group, or the group of human subjects receiving the placebo, they would have nothing to compare the results of experimental group with and thus may disregard important revelations.
These experiments can be conducted as a “single-blind” or “double-blind” study. In a single-blind study, the scientist is aware of which group the placebo is given to. In a double-blind trial, neither the scientists nor the patients are aware of which group is receiving the real medication or which group is receiving the placebo. Occasionally in a single-blind experiment, the doctors or scientists who administer the drug may be biased, even unconsciously, regarding the results of the trial as they know who will be receiving the real drug. Even minor inconsistencies can interfere with the results of a clinical test. In a double-blind experiment, because neither groups knows who is receiving what, the results can come off as pure and unbiased, and that is why double-blind experiments are sometimes more favorable when conducting a trial.
In both single-blind and double-blind studies, however, something known as the placebo effect can occur. When a patient who may be having a placebo administered is unaware of that fact, their strong psychological belief that the “medication” is effective may physically make them feel healthier. It has been reported that up to thirty or forty percent of patients receiving a placebo drug experience the placebo effect. Most of the time, though, the placebo effect only produces small results, such as pain loss or an increase in energy. These are often too minute to wholly affect a drug trial’s outcome.
Conducting these two forms of experiments involving a placebo allow scientists to thoroughly observe and justify their results. Without a control group, known in this case as the group of patients who are receiving a placebo, an experiment would most likely produce little to no solid results, as they might go unobserved and unrecorded without anything to compare them to. The use of single-blind and double-blind experiments, although some may argue unfair to the patient, allow scientists to efficiently compare and gather data that may improve the quality of or even save lives in the future.
“Placebo.” Mecrk Manual.
“What is the Placebo Effect?” Wisegeek.
“What is a Clinical Trial?” National Cancer Institute.
“Double-Blind, Placebo Controlled Clinical Trial.” About.