Setting your location helps us to show you nearby providers and locations based on your healthcare needs.
Your Location is set to Change My Location
Cone Health wants to help you get well and stay well. This section provides tools and information to achieve good health and maintain your well-being.
Learn what community resources are available to help you get well and stay well.
View health and wellness news you can use from Cone Health providers on
View Advanced Search OptionsView All Doctors
View All Locations
Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Placebo and sham treatment
COVID-19 Info: Vaccines | Testing | Visitor Guidelines | Stats | More
IMPORTANT NOTICE: COVID-19 testing appointments are not available at Cone Health emergency departments or urgent care locations. Click here for testing options.
Placebo and sham treatment are methods used in medical trials to help researchers determine the effectiveness of a drug or treatment. Placebos are inactive substances used to compare results with active substances. And in sham treatments, the doctor goes through the motions without actually performing the treatment.
A placebo is often used in a drug trial to help show whether the drug being studied is more effective than an inactive "sugar pill." Some of the people in the drug trial get the active drug while others get the inactive placebo. The results of each group are compared.
In a sham treatment, some people get the real treatment while others get the sham treatment. Then the results are compared.
When a person who is taking the inactive substance or who has had a sham treatment reports that symptoms have improved, this improvement is called the placebo effect. It is probably a result of the brain releasing "feel-good" hormones such as endorphins in response to treatment. Active drugs and therapies can also have a placebo effect. It can be difficult for researchers or doctors to know if the reason a drug works is because of its active ingredient or because of the placebo effect.
Regulations govern studies that use placebos or sham treatments. These studies are always done with the participants' consent.
Current as of: February 11, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Karin M. Lindholm DO - Neurology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Subscribe to our Wellness Matters e-newsletter, a monthly snapshot of the some of great wellness content from Cone Health providers.