Defined in Butterworth's Medical Dictionary as "a pharmaceutically inactive substance administered as a drug either to satisfy a patient's desire for medication or in the course of a drug trial," the placebo (Latin, "I will please") is currently under attack (Scientific American 231:17-23, 1974). With its sharp edge blunted by informed consent regulations, the placebo has lost much of its effectiveness in controlled drug trials, and with increasing demands for patient participation in medical decisions, it is about to lose its long-held respectable place in therapy. A victim of consumerism, the placebo is in a precarious state.
Transcending the dictionary definition of placebo as a nonentity masquerading as a drug is the broader concept of placebo effect, which extends beyond drug prescribing to laying on of hands, incantations, senseless surgical procedures, and innumerable other modes of therapy practiced through the ages. In fact, most therapy has and will have derived