For years, homeopaths have been manufacturing placebos and calling them remedies. They choose an arbitrary ingredient, dilute it until there is nothing left, shake it vigorously, slap a label on it, and serve it up as an all-natural homeopathic supplement. They get away with this fraud because their products are not subject to any kind of official inspection by the FDA. But, no doubt about it, they are placebos in disguise.
A new non-homeopathic kid’s product is coming out that also avoids scientific scrutiny… because there’s nothing in it, just like homeopathic pills. Instead of lying about it, Jennifer Buettner of Severna Park, Maryland flat-out admits that her pills are placebos. That’s the whole point! The pills are called Obecalp (placebo spelled backwards) and are meant to trick hypochondriac children into feeling better. This isn’t the first time that the term “Obecalp” has been used to trick patients, but it is the first time that a placebo has been directly sold to parents.
The word “Placebo” means “I will please” in Latin, and that is just what these non-pharmaceuticals do – please the patient. The first use of the term placebo seems to have been religious funeral crashers who pretended to know the deceased so that they could sneak out free food. Now, we use the the term “Placebo Effect” to describe the actual relief (whether it be mental of physical) that comes after being administered a non-treatment by a doctor or authority figure.
If you think about it, the placebo effect is pretty amazing. It requires faith in the authority figure and blind ignorance to the product’s inert properties. I can see why miracles and healing can be attributed to God for that very reason. But, it also tells us something about the power of blind belief within the functions of our human body and nervous system.
Administering placebos to children may be OK in the form of kissing boo boos or giving the occasional vitamin, but buying a whole vial of placebo pills is taking the situation too far. First, the product is a waste of money for the very fact that placebo pills can be easily manufactured by any individual with access to sugar. Second, Obecalp has some ethical problems because the parent is teaching the child to medicate the hypochondria rather than root out the psychological reason behind it (perhaps a need for attention). Third, the assumption that a child is inventing symptoms may be false, and sugar pills would be replacing proper medical care in that situation.
Medical practitioners are equally concerned that a commercial placebo pill sends the wrong message to children, but they would do well to point out that homeopathic pills are no better. I would rather purposefully by a non-medication for my child than be tricked by a homeopathic huckster like Head On (apply directly to the forehead), which actually had to admit that it’s dangerous active ingredient was basically inert due to dilution and succussion.
There is a money-wasting placebo product for kids that I think is fun and relatively innocent called Monster Spray. For the child terrified of monsters, why not make your own monster spray and spritz it around the room. The only downside is that it might encourage belief in monsters, but I truly think that even small children intuitively know that monsters aren’t real… even if they have their doubts.