Placebos: How They Are Used in Clinical Trials

If you are considering participating in a clinical trial, it is important to understand placebos and how and
why they are used in clinical research. A placebo is a treatment which has no pharmaceutical effect or
therapeutic or medical value. The use of placebos within a clinical trial helps medical researchers more
accurately compare the effect of the treatment being studied.
Used as a control in testing new medications and procedures, common placebos include sugar pills and
inert injections. “Control” refers to the individuals or group of individuals who do not receive the
treatment being researched – those solely used as a comparison within clinical research to gauge the
results of the actual treatment that is being tested.
In order not to skew the clinical trial in any way and to ensure as much accuracy in the clinical research
results as possible, placebos are made to look like the actual treatment being researched within the
clinical trial. Placebos are also administered exactly as the actual treatment being studied is
administered. Clinical trial volunteers receiving the placebo, along with the medical research
professionals who administer the placebos and provide patient monitoring, care and follow-up, are not
aware which patients receive the placebos and which receive the actual treatment being tested. This
approach lessens the chance for bias on the part of the clinical trial volunteer as well as the physicians.
Oftentimes placebos are required in clinical trials to prove that a treatment is safe and effective enough
to receive approval from the Food & Drug Administration. Certain clinical studies take it a step further,
introducing an additional, previously proven medication as well – comparing the results of all three: the
placebo, the new treatment being tested and the treatment already on the market. There are even
certain instances in clinical trials where the medicine being tested and a placebo are tested on the same
patient, just at different times.
Even when the clinical trial results may not produce the results intended by the medical researchers,
there is often a wealth of knowledge gained in our clinical trial process. Through the intense monitoring,
care and follow-up of our clinical trial volunteers, Riverside Clinical Research physicians may discover
facts previously unknown about a certain condition or illness, such as additional symptoms associated
with it, possibly the duration of the condition and/or numerous other anomalies that had been
otherwise uncovered.
Another interesting and important phenomenon which can occur when placebos are used within clinical
trial research is something called “the placebo effect.” The placebo effect is an instance when a clinical
trial volunteer who received a placebo will feel as if they are improving from the condition being studied
or – believe it or not – they will actually improve without receiving any treatment aside from a placebo.
The placebo effect is a psychological condition which may occur as a result of the clinical research
volunteers who are given a placebo also receiving the extra care and attention that is provided within a
clinical trial or just possibly due to the fact that they truly believe they are receiving actual treatment for
their condition. Additionally, the placebo effect is sometimes attributed to patient expectations and

certain patient personality traits, such as whether or not they are more susceptible to suggestion than
another clinical trial patient may be.
Of course, during clinical trials in which placebos are used, the placebo effect must be ruled out to
accomplish accurate testing results. The importance of this step cannot be stressed enough. The placebo
response can delay the approval and delivery of medications, vaccines and other treatments and
procedures, as well as even contribute to clinical trial failures.
At the Riverside Clinical Research facility, the safety and comfort of our clinical trial volunteers is always
our top priority. Consequently, placebos would absolutely never be used in any instance where there
was even the smallest chance that clinical trial volunteers could be harmed if they were deprived of the
actual medication needed to treat their condition.
Additionally, the clinical trial volunteers at Riverside Clinical Research are always informed if a placebo is
planned for use within a study in which they agreed to participate; and the recipients of said placebo
receive the exact same monitoring, care and follow-up treatment as every Riverside Clinical Research
clinical trial volunteer who receives the actual medication, procedure or other treatment being tested.
Riverside Clinical Research volunteers are paid for their time, there are no costs for the medical
procedures or treatments provided and insurance is not necessary for participation. Clinical research
volunteers are also often able to benefit from innovative medical treatments before they are made
available to the general public.
If you think you might be interesting in aiding in the advancement of science and medical technology by
becoming a clinical trial volunteer, please feel free to contact Riverside Clinical Research for more
information or to be alerted about various Riverside Clinical Research trials as they become available.
Simply call 386-428-7730 Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. or Friday from 7 a.m. to 12
p.m. or email You can also find out more about the clinical research
trials being conducted at Riverside Clinical Research by accessing our patient portal which can be found
Riverside Clinical Research, conveniently located at conveniently located at 1410 S. Ridgewood Avenue
in Edgewater, is deeply committed to discovering better ways to prevent, treat, control and diagnose