Using placebo medications in the clinical setting – An intellectual game or a possible reality?

Uri Nitzan*, Yuval Bloch, Shmuel Fennig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prior to the development of the pharmaceutical industry and the advocacy of evidence based medicine in the late 20th century, placebo treatments were commonly used by physicians. In current clinical practice, neither a physician’s confidence in the efficacy of a specific treatment nor his personal ethical norms are any longer sufficient to initiate a given therapy. We will discuss whether placebo treatments can be ethically used in clinical practice as an alternative to standard therapy, and propose an innovative conceptualization of the factors involved in the exclusion of placebo treatments from the clinical setting. Patient-related ethical and interpersonal arguments and physician-related legal and ideological arguments concerning placebo usage are presented. We describe current use of placebo treatments in the healthcare system and suggest that placebo therapy thrives and that its therapeutic efficacy is widely acknowledged. There is currently “underground” use of placebo medication, open label placebo trials, and innovative approaches to informed consent to facilitate ethical prescription of placebo therapy. Finally, using the specific example of treatment for depression, we demonstrate how the arguments against placebo use might be undermined, to retrieve the legitimacy of placebo therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)182-187
Number of pages6
JournalIsrael Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - 11 Aug 2014


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