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How expensive fakes beat the cheap ones

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All practising pharmacists are aware of the value of brand versus generic, or “expensive” versus “cheap” medication in patients’ perception of their efficacy. Analgesics are a prime example. Now researchers have quantified the effect by comparing an “expensive” placebo to a “cheap” one.

Research published in JAMA found that more than 85 per cent of participants experienced pain reduction after taking an “expensive” analgesic placebo, compared with only 61 per cent of those given a “cheaper” version.

Half were given a placebo that they were told cost $2.50 a tablet, while the rest were told that their tablets had been discounted to $0.10 each. Analgesic effect was measured using electric shocks of varying intensity.

The researchers suggest that clinicians could use this effect to their benefit by, for example, avoiding any mention of low priced or generic medicines when writing prescriptions.

This research won the 2008 Ig Nobel price for medicine. Ig Nobel prizes are a parody of Nobel prizes and honour achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think”. They are intended to celebrate the unusual, to honour the imaginative and to spur people’s interest in science, medicine and technology.

Other winners of 2008 awards include a biology prize for French researchers who discovered that dog fleas jump higher than cat fleas and a chemistry prize for research proving that Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide.

Winners of the physics prize proved mathematically that “heaps of string or hair or almost anything else will inevitably tangle themselves up in knots”.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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