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What is the role of placebo in clinical trials?

Clinical trials are essential for developing new treatments and understanding their effectiveness. A vital aspect of some clinical trials is the use of placebos. If you are new to clinical trials, you might be wondering, "Why would there be placebos?" In this simplified guide, we will unravel the role of placebos in clinical trials and why they matter.

The placebo in clinical trials

Picture by Karolina Grabowska via Pexels

Understanding placebos in clinical trials

What is a placebo?

A placebo is a harmless, inactive substance that has no therapeutic effect. In clinical trials, it is often used as a control to compare against the experimental treatment. Researchers compare the effects of the experimental treatment to the effects of the placebo. If the treatment group shows significantly better results than the placebo group, it suggests the treatment is effective.

The placebo effect

The placebo effect is a fascinating phenomenon where a person experiences a perceived improvement in their condition due to believing they are receiving a treatment, even if it is just a placebo.

The purpose of placebos
  • Control group: Placebos are used in clinical trials to create a control group. This group receives the placebo, while the experimental group receives the actual treatment. Comparing the two helps researchers determine if the treatment has a real effect beyond the placebo.

  • Eliminating bias: Using placebos helps eliminate bias in clinical trial results. When participants and researchers are unaware of who is receiving the treatment or placebo (a double-blind study), the results are less likely to be influenced by expectations.

Ethical considerations of using placebos

Informed consent
  • Full disclosure: Participants must be fully informed if placebos will be used in the trial. This is a fundamental aspect of informed consent.

  • Protection of participants: Ethical guidelines ensure that participants' rights and well-being are protected throughout the trial.

European guidelines

Clinical trials in Europe follow strict ethical guidelines to ensure that the use of placebos is justified and does not harm participants

Types of clinical trials using placebos

Placebo-controlled trials

In some clinical trials, participants are randomly assigned to either the treatment group (receiving the experimental treatment) or the placebo group (receiving the placebo). This helps researchers determine the treatment's effectiveness.

The science behind the placebo effect

Mind-body connection

The placebo effect highlights the power of the mind in influencing physical well-being. Belief and expectation can genuinely impact a person's health.

Debunking myths

There are often misconceptions about placebos, such as believing they have no value. However, they play a crucial role in advancing medical knowledge and ensuring the safety and effectiveness of treatments.


Placebos are a vital component of clinical trials, serving as a benchmark to evaluate the effectiveness of new treatments. While they may seem like sugar pills, their role in ensuring the safety and efficacy of medical treatments is profound.

As a potential participant in clinical trials, understanding the role of placebos empowers you to make informed decisions. Rest assured, ethical guidelines and regulations protect your rights and well-being throughout the process.

At Curewiki, we are committed to transparency and ethical considerations in clinical trial matching. Our AI platform exclusively features trials listed by official health organizations, ensuring a protected journey and meaningful clinical research. Explore clinical trials with confidence, knowing that your contributions can make a real difference in advancing medical knowledge and improving treatments.


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