Some people buy only name brand drugs. They swear they work better and they are adamant that it costs more because of this improvement in quality and efficacy. A small, new study shows they may have it backwards – the perception of cost could influence the effectiveness of some drugs.
In this study, researchers injected participants suffering from Parkinson’s disease with a placebo. Participants were told that one injection cost $100 per treatment while the other medication cost $1500. Half of the patients were randomly given the “expensive” drug first while the other half received the “cheap” version first. When given the more “expensive” treatment, the subjects showed better motor function on standardized tests than with the cheap one, particularly when they received the expensive one first.
What’s even more interesting is that brain scans also suggested that participants responded better to the more “expensive” treatment even though both were only placebos.
“‘Expensive’ placebo significantly improved motor function and decreased brain activation in a direction and magnitude comparable to, albeit less than, levodopa,” the study concluded. “Perceptions of cost are capable of altering the placebo response in clinical studies.”
The researchers found that both placebos improved motor function compared to baseline but the “expensive” placebo “improved motor function two-fold over ‘cheap’ placebo if given first.” (Emphasis mine) “The expensive placebo group experienced a 28 percent improvement in motor function, as measured by the motor subscale of the UPDRS, a magnitude of change that was not statistically significantly different than levodopa,” Dr. Espay said. In other words, if a patient is told that a medicine for their Parkinson’s disease is expensive it will work about as well as the gold-standard treatment for that condition.