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What is the Placebo Effect?

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Contents

1. Crystals and the Placebo Effect 
2. Healing Properties of Crystals
3. How do Crystals Work?
4. What's the Nocebo Effect?
5. Conclusion

Crystals and the Placebo Effect

The placebo effect is a phenomenon whereby someone experiences an improvement in a medical condition purely because of their belief in the drug or treatment.

Although there's no scientific evidence to support crystals having the ability to heal, they're used for this purpose by millions of people around the world.

Scientists believe their healing ability comes from the placebo effect.

A placebo is a drug that contains no active medicinal ingredient.  It can also be a treatment or therapy.  It has been proven to be effective with certain conditions even though there's no reason why it should.

In relation to crystals, from a scientific perspective the positive outcome comes from the user's belief either consciously or subconsciously in their ability to heal.

This is however more than just positive thinking.  The placebo effect is known to be incredibly powerful. 

According to Professor Ted Kaptchuk who carried out extensive research into this phenomenon, it's about creating a strong connection between the brain and body and how they work together.

The placebo effect was first observed in 1799 when British doctor John Haygarth tested the effectiveness of a quack remedy using a placebo.  Four out of the five patients who unknowingly participated in his experiment confirmed a reduction in their pain.

The world "placebo" comes from Latin for "I shall please".  This term was first used in a medical dictionary in 1811 to describe the way early doctors used medication to "please" instead of to treat.  This was because effective drugs simply didn't exist.

The origins of the phrase "I shall please" can be traced back much further.  It comes from a 14th century psalm in the Latin bible that was reproduced incorrectly from Hebrew biblical text meaning "I shall walk".

Having then been mistranslated into Greek as "I shall please" it ended up as "placebo" which is the Latin translation.

Early placebos were pills made from sugar or bread.  Injections were coloured water.
placebo tablet broken in halfBy the 1950's they were being used to test new drugs.  Some volunteers would be given a placebo whilst others received the drug.

What researchers didn't expect was for the placebo to have an effect that was often on par with the drug.

Placebo surgeries known as "sham surgeries" have even been carried out.  In some more extreme examples the patient was cut open and stitched up without any medical procedure having taken place.

The placebo effect has been studied extensively for many years.  It's known to achieve positive results for a wide variety of conditions.

When someone is convinced a treatment will be effective it triggers something in the brain that causes a genuine improvement.

The placebo effect has changed heart rate, blood pressure and even released endorphins to treat stress and reduce pain. It has also been used effectively to treat anxiety and depression.

Trials have shown in some cases the effect of a placebo is just as effective as an antidepressant. 

In one study a group of people were given a milkshake.  Some were told it was low calorie whilst others were told it was high calorie.  All the shakes were low calorie.  Results showed that many who believed they had consumed a drink that was fattening gained weight.

Scientists know that for the placebo effect to work everything about the drug or treatment and the environment in which it's delivered must be realistic and convincing.

When a small group of people were treated for an allergic reaction using a placebo cream results differed depending on several factors.

Those treated in a pristine medical environment by a doctor who they believed was an expert in their field reacted positively to the cream.  Those who received the same treatment in a casual environment by a student doctor who appeared to lack confidence saw no improvement.

A placebo contains no medicinal ingredient so the positive reaction is caused purely by the mind and the power of perception.
  
The placebo effect is the reason why using crystals for their healing properties works for some but not for others.

Healing Properties of Crystals

Using crystals for their healing properties was re-popularised during the New Age movement of the 1970s and 1980s.  This period was about religious freedom, transformation and enlightenment, spiritual awareness and personal growth.

The New Age movement promoted a holistic approach to health and wellbeing which included practicing yoga, meditating, eating healthy foods and using crystals for their purported healing properties.

Many followers became vegan or vegetarian and natural therapies such as acupuncture and massage were encouraged.

Followers explored their psychic ability and practised rituals such as tarot cards and palm reading.  Many also studied astrology.

Leaders encouraged the use of rocks and minerals for spiritual guidance and to improve health and wellbeing.  Many went as far as to say they even had the ability to teach.
open crystal bible book with various crystalsSince the dawn of time stones have been used for their healing properties.  They've been used as amulets, talismans and to help a wide variety of medical conditions.  Today their use is a contentious subject.

The oldest legends of crystals being used for healing dates back to the mythical Kingdom of Atlantis.  Records from 4,500 BC show the ancient Sumerians used them for magical potions.  They were also widely used by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Few comprehensive scientific studies exist regarding the healing ability of crystals.  Research has shown New Age literature lacks evidence and hard facts that can be backed up with science.

By the end of the 1980s the New Age movement had lost momentum.  As times changed the practice of using crystals began to diminish.  This is likely to be because as science progressed there was insufficient evidence to support their healing ability.

Some twenty years later a worldwide resurgence began.  This latest trend of using crystals has led to the creation of a multi-billion dollar industry.

How do Crystals Work?

To benefit from the healing properties of crystals it's important to understand how they work.  They do not have magical powers and should never be used to replace conventional medicine.

Unless you're open minded to their healing ability and ready to embrace change you're unlikely to see any improvement.

The belief crystals can be used for therapeutic purposes comes from the idea they absorb and transmit energy.  This energy is believed to be able to engage with the energy field of the human body to promote physical, emotional and spiritual healing.

Crystals are placed around the body or on chakra points.  They can also be laid out in a formation known as a grid.

Their healing effects can also be experienced by having them in rooms where you spend the most time or by wearing or carrying them.

The healing that's experienced is described as a sense of wholeness, a feeling of serenity and of being in harmony with the world around you.

It's believed to be achieved by bringing the mind, emotions and spirit into alignment and by clearing energy blockages in the aura.

Enabling energy to flow freely is believed to support health and wellbeing.  Blockages are said to cause mental or physical impairment which could lead to illness.
diagram of a figure with the location of the 7 chakras and their namesMany healing crystals are believed to have the ability to keep you grounded.  This is explained as a sense of being in control of your mental and physical self.  You're conscious of what's going on around you and enjoy an inner calmness that enables you to deal with any type of situation.

Being grounded means you don't feel overwhelmed or struggle to deal with everyday tasks and generally have a positive outlook on life.

The term "wellbeing" encompasses feelings of protection, relaxation, confidence and support.

Scientists say the practice of cleansing and recharging crystals legitimises their healing ability. This ritual is likened to the way medical equipment is prepared and sanitised before and after a procedure.

Many crystal healers say that to benefit from the healing properties of crystals you must first learn how to work with them. Scholars explain this learning process as a means of enhancing our perception and awareness.

By training the mind to understand something we find interesting we become more open to it. In relation to crystals that's likely to lead to a more positive response.

Science has proven the placebo effect is more than just mind over matter. The mental, physical or emotional change that can be achieved cannot be underestimated.

The placebo effect has huge potential in medicine and is taken very seriously.

What's the Nocebo Effect?

The nocebo effect is the opposite of the placebo effect.

The word nocebo comes from the Latin "nocere" meaning "to harm". It refers to the brain's ability to influence health in a negative way.

Like the placebo effect the nocebo effect is caused by the power of suggestion, expectation and personal experience.

The nocebo effect is the phenomenon in which a person experiences negative or harmful effects as a result of a negative expectation or belief about a treatment or therapy.

If someone believes a medication will cause a particular side effect they may actually experience it.

Similarly if they're told a medical procedure or treatment will be painful or uncomfortable they may experience more pain or discomfort than they would have otherwise

Conclusion

Using crystals for their healing properties can be a positive and enjoyable experience.

They're aesthetically pleasing, can be very tactile and there's something magical about them that's difficult to put into words.

My advice is to enjoy them for what they are.  Don't expect too much and don't give up on them too quickly if they don't have the desired effect.

Most importantly don't believe everything you that read about them.

If science is right as it usually is and the placebo effect is responsible for their ability to heal, then what better way to improve health and wellbeing than through the power of the mind.
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