MANY times after we have a patient, especially a chronic one, on the homoeopathic remedy we are in the habit of giving a placebo as long as the patient is improving. The question arises, does the placebo have any curative action? It is believed that it has. This will serve as an introduction to the subject of “conditioned reflex”. What this is we do not know. As we proceed you will get some idea of what is understood by the term known as a conditioned reflex.
If a human or other animal is put into a condition or state by the application of drugs or other stimulation so that he or it will react in the same manner when other substances or stimulation are given which have no power to produce the original reaction–that is known as a conditioned reflex. This conception of conditioned reflex open up a new and great field for investigation.
Some years ago there appeared in a few foreign journals some articles on conditioned reflex. I quote in part from the Mount Airy Sanitarium Bulletin; March, 1933.
“Metalnikov averse that he can produce leucocytosis as a conditioned reflex in rabbits. He stimulates the animal by sounding a prolonged tone on a trumpet and by scratching the ear. These stimuli are followed by an intravenous injection of sterile cholera bacilli. This procedure is repeated on twenty consecutive days and then the animal is allowed a rest interval of ten or fifteen days for the leucocytosis to subside.
At the end of this period the conditioned stimulus is repeated– the prolonged tone plus the scratching–but the accustomed vaccine is withheld. Despite the absence of the vaccine the rabbit now develops a leucocytosis. One rabbit increased its white count in three hours from 7,900 to 28,420.
“In similar experiments Metalnikov demonstrated that the antibodies could be elaborated as a conditioned response. The conditioned stimulus was a prolonged tone or a hot test tube applied to the ear. The stimulus was followed by an injection of cholera vaccine and at different stages in the proceedings the agglutinins of blood were triturated. In the final stages of the experiment the vaccine was omitted, and it was found that the conditioned stimuli would of themselves increase the agglutinins.
“The conditioned reflex involves more than associative memory for it is possible to bring physiological response to conditional stimuli. If a bell is sounded when a light is flashed on the pupil of the eye the pupil contracts in response to the light and the bell meanwhile has nothing to do with it. But if the bell is repeatedly associated with the light, it soon acquires the power to affect pupillary contraction by itself”.
When morphine has been given for a day or more after surgical operations we are all familiar with the fact that then a sterile hypo will produce ease and restful sleep. We used to think this was due to suggestion but from the above experiments we know that the patient by the previous hypos of morphine has been placed in a state of conditioned reflex and the placebo reproduces the original response. Dope friends seems to have lost hits reflex action, for a sterile hypo will not produce any kick.
If animals and humans respond to a conditioned reflex as stated above it seems reasonable that a patient in whom the homoeopathic remedy has started a curative action, whether by one or repeated doses, will react to a placebo. If the above experiments are true then the placebo must be given in the same form as that of the original dose. Of itself a placebo has no more action than that of striking a bell before the eye will cause contraction of the pupil in a non-conditioned reflex person.
There must first be a state of conditioned reflex before a placebo will act. The only method by which we may know whether or not a patient is in a conditioned reflex is by perceiving that the patient has responded to the remedy and that improvement has commenced. If no improvement is followed by the remedy it is certain that a placebo will have no curative effect.
If the above experiments are any guide to our reasoning then a placebo, and its repetition after the remedy has started the cure, will produce a “boost” to the curative process for a time but experience has taught us that the response gradually wears out.” This repetition of the placebo may account for the prolonged action of our remedies.
In some chronic cases the action of our remedies lasts fro twenty days up to several months.
Many homoeopathic physicians are strictly against repeating the curative remedy as long as the patient is improving. They give a placebo, not realizing that they are actually producing a stimulating response in the patient. It is about the same as giving the original remedy, except the action of the placebo gradually wears out.
If intelligently understood and properly applied there is no doubt that the so-called innocent placebo is capable of playing an important role in the armament of the homoeopathic physician.