Editorial from Julian Winston
Homeopathy Today September 2001

Danish investigators have recently published a study which concludes that the placebo effect is a myth.¹ In the May 24th issue of The New York Times, there was a piece titled “New study casts doubt on placebo effect.” The article opens, “In a new report that is being met with a mixture of astonishment and disbelief, two Danish researchers say the placebo effect is a myth. The investigators analyzed 114 published studies involving about 7,500 patients with 40 different conditions.”

In particular, they tracked down the frequently cited 30% figure for placebo efficacy and traced it to a single article in the 1950’s which fails to justify it.

And now, the story behind the story…
There is one “placebo study” that supports the high percentage figure. The study was designed to test the placebo effect. The subjects were all women with nausea from morning sickness.²

The researchers decided to use a dilute amount of “syrup of ipecac”- the stuff that you give to your kids to get them to throw up if they’ve eaten something bad. The women were told it was a “new medicine” for nausea of morning sickness. There was a high percentage positive response.

The conclusion was that if you give the subjects something to make them vomit but instead of vomiting they say they feel better, it must be a placebo response.

But… for those of us who know about homeopathy, we know that it relies on the principle of similars. Since Ipecac can cause nausea it can also cure it in cases where the symptomatology matches. Homeopathically prepared Ipecac is a well-used remedy in homeopathy for nausea where the vomiting does not relieve the nausea and there is also a clean tongue.

So the study gave a dilute amount of Ipecac to a group of women suffering from nausea in pregnancy. The result was not a placebo reaction. It was a curative reaction. Ipecac is one of 60 remedies in Kent’s Repertory under “Stomach, Nausea, in pregnancy.”


(1) A. Hrobjartsson, P. Gotzsch, Is the placebo powerless? An analysis of clinical trials comparing placebo with no treatment. New England Journal of Medicine. May 24, 2001; vol. 344:1594–1602.
(2) Wolf, S. (1950). Effects of suggestions and conditioning on the action of chemical agents in human subjects: The pharmacology of placebos. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 29, 100–109.

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