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Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2012 Mar;33(3):165-72. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2012 Jan 25.

Utilizing placebo mechanisms for dose reduction in pharmacotherapy.

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Department of Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Gutenbergstr. 18, 35032 Marburg, Germany.


The knowledge and systematic application of the placebo effect remains limited, although its importance to the treatment of various medical conditions has increasingly been recognized. A possible application of the placebo effect to pharmacotherapy is seen in conditioning processes that aim at a placebo-controlled dose reduction of drugs while maintaining the efficacy of the medical treatment. The pairing of a placebo and a pharmacological agent may achieve satisfactory treatment outcomes in combination with a lower dose of medication. This procedure includes classic and instrumental conditioning processes that involve both conscious and non-conscious information processing. Although recent studies have gathered preliminary evidence for the efficacy of placebo-controlled dose reduction (e.g. in psoriasis and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD]), they have also illustrated the difficulties that are inherent to this approach. We critically review previous approaches and discuss designs for clinical trials that seem appropriate to the investigation of conditioned placebo effects in pharmacotherapy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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