You Are the Placebo
In 1957, UCLA psychologist Bruno Klopfer published an article in a peer-reviewed journal telling the story of a man he referred to as “Mr. Wright,” who had advanced lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph glands. The man had huge tumors, some as big as an orange, in his neck, groin, and armpits, and his cancer was not responding at all to conventional treatments. He lay in his bed for weeks, “febrile, gasping for air, completely bedridden.” His doctor, Philip West, had given up hope—although Wright himself had not. When Wright found out that the hospital where he was being treated (in Long Beach, California) just happened to be one of ten hospitals and research centers in the country that were evaluating an experimental drug extracted from horse blood called Krebiozen, he got very excited. Wright unrelentingly badgered Dr. West for days until the physician agreed to give him some of the new remedy (even though Wright couldn’t officially be part of the trial, which required patients to have at least a three-month life expectancy).
Wright received his injection of Krebiozen on a Friday, and by Monday, he was walking around, laughing, and joking with his nurses, acting pretty much like a new man. Dr. West reported that the tumors “had melted like snowballs on a hot stove.” Within three days, the tumors were half their original size. In ten more days, Wright was sent home—he’d been cured. It seemed like a miracle.
But two months later, the media reported that the ten trials showed that Krebiozen turned out to be a dud. Once Wright read the news, became fully conscious of the results, and embraced the thought that the drug was useless, he relapsed immediately, with his tumors soon returning. Dr. West suspected that Wright’s initial positive response was due to the placebo effect, and knowing that his patient was terminal, he figured he had little to lose—and Wright had everything to gain—by testing out his theory. So the doctor told Wright not to believe the newspaper reports and that he’d suffered a relapse because the Krebiozen they’d given Wright was found to be part of a bad batch. What Dr. West called “a new, super-refined, double-strength” version of the drug was on its way to the hospital, and Wright could have it as soon as it arrived.
In anticipation of being cured, Wright was elated, and a few days later, he received the injection. But this time, the syringe Dr. West used contained no drug, experimental or not. The syringe was filled only with distilled water.
Again, Wright’s tumors magically vanished. He happily returned home and did well for another two months, free of tumors in his body. But then the American Medical Association made the announcement that Krebiozen was indeed worthless. The medical establishment had been duped. The “miracle drug” turned out to be a hoax: nothing more than mineral oil containing a simple amino acid. The manufacturers were eventually indicted. Upon hearing the news, Wright relapsed a final time—no longer believing in the possibility of health. He returned to the hospital hopeless and, two days later, was dead.
Is it possible that Wright somehow changed his state of being, not once but twice, to that of a man who simply didn’t have cancer—in a matter of days? Did his body then automatically respond to a new mind? And could he have changed his state back to that of a man with cancer once he heard the drug was purported to be worthless, with his body creating exactly the same chemistry and returning to the familiar sickened condition? Is it possible to achieve such a new biochemical state not only when taking a pill or getting a shot, but also when undergoing something as invasive as surgery?