A Defacto Placebo Effect?

After reading the Greenslit piece, I wonder if the way a drug gets packaged can influence that drug’s efficacy. I.e., might there be a placebo effect from taking a drug with certain “inessential” characteristics versus taking a chemically identical drug with different “inessential” characteristics?

To illustrate, let us imagine an experiment. You give a group of people supposedly suffering from “PMDD”aesthetically different, but chemically identical, treatments: some get the green-and-white “Prozac,” while others get the pink-and-lavender “Sarafem.” If one treatment yields better results, I would conjecture that we are witnessing a “placebo effect” of sorts. I.e., while no “actual placebos” are involved, there are characteristics like “pill color” that may not affect the chemical or biological processes involved in a treatment, but do influence a patient’s psychological well-being and contribute to a treatment’s efficacy (especially if we are talking about psychiatric or mood disorders) .

Now, I do not have empirical evidence to justify that there is in fact a placebo-like effect when active ingredients get packaged in one way versus another; this is just a hypothesis that needs to be researched. However, if I am right, my hypothesis has implications for the discussion and debates surrounding pharmaceutical rebranding. Firstly, we might say that re-branding can be medically, and not just commercially, justified. Further, from a normative standpoint, we might say that regulatory bodies should require pharmaceutical companies to rebrand drugs for certain disorders, but not be to maximize the commercial value of a drug (as is the status quo), but rather to find which package or “brand” maximizes a particular drug’s effectiveness as treatment for a disease. Most often than not, I expect commercial and medical effectiveness of a drug’s branding will coincide, but in this way, rebranding can at least become a boon to public health.

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