What's this new wonder drug that helped athletes battle through painful workouts as though they couldn't feel a thing?
Oh gosh, it's not such a new drug after all: it's called a placebo.
Crabby never fails to find herself amused by the placebo effect, because it's sort of the Practical Joke of health and medical research. Yet it's also real and tremendously effective. Because we humans are so goofy, our expectations about what's going to happen are often way more powerful than any medication researchers are trying to test.
Anyway, this particular study (spotted by New Scientist) might be interesting to those who are competitive athletes or sports fans, because it seems to suggest a sneaky way around some of the anti-doping restrictions.
Basically, a group of Italian athletes underwent an artificially painful and unpleasant workout in the Name of Science (just like in yesterday's study, because apparently European researchers like to torture athletic young men just for giggles). The scientists timed how long these guys could "operate an exercise device while blood flow in their arm was restricted, making the exercise painful." But during two practice sessions (spaced a week apart), some got morphine injections. The morphine-doped men were able to exercise for longer.
Well, a week later the morphine group got a fake injection. And what happened? They still managed to exercise for longer, "seemingly oblivious to the pain."
The New Scientist article noted that World Anti-Doping Agency rules allow athlete to take opiate painkillers like morphine during training, but not on the day of a competition. And they suggest that this creates a Big Conundrum. Is it cheating to train an athlete with morphine, then use the placebo effect to give him a boost on the day of the competition?
Interesting question, kinda. Franky, Crabby doesn't really give a crap because she's not a huge fan of sports or competitive athletics. But many of you actually run races and go tearing around on bicycles and swim competitively and such, and some of you might have an opinion on whether this sort of thing should be kosher.
Crabby had a far more pressing question, but even when she went straight to the source, she couldn't find the answer. (Unfortunately, the source was greedy and wanted money, damn it, so she was stuck with just the abstract.) The question was about the "fake" morphine shot. It sounds, from the article, like the athletes thought they were getting morphine but didn't. Which is generally part of the placebo effect.
Well, if that's true, then how the heck is a trainer going to take advantage of it for real races?
Sneaky Trainer: All ready? The race starts soon, it's time for your shot!
Athlete: Whoa, dude, morphine on race day? Won't that disqualify me?
Sneaky Trainer: Uh, no--not at all! It's totally legal now for you to have morphine right before a race.
Athlete: Really? Awesome! Bring it on, I like that stuff!
Sneaky Trainer: Go get 'em tiger!
As an aside, Crabby is rarely able to take advantage of the placebo effect herself. She suspects it takes a more optimistic world view than she has. She expects pain pills and other remedies not to do much, and sure enough, they don't. She has always envied the Placebo People, who often tell her about the latest weird herbal remedy they just tried that totally fixed their chronic (whatever) problem. No doubt it will work for Crabby too!
It never does.
So is anyone else intrigued by the placebo effect? Are you susceptible? Or have any thoughts on doping in sports, or the gratuitous exercise-torture of young buffed male athletes?