— In 1997 Janis Schonfeld, a Californian interior designer, volunteered for an antidepressant drug trial. She had suffered with clinical depression for many years and was desperate for a cure. She took the drug for eight weeks and felt significant improvement, although she did suffer with nausea, the side-effect of the drug. The EEG recordings taken during and after the trial showed increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, which supported the truth of her recovery.
But Janis Schonfeld had been taking the placebo. It was not the drug that made her better (or produced the side-effects), it was her mind.
— In the 1970s, Sam Londe, a retired salesman in the US, was diagnosed with metastatic esophageal cancer and given months to live. He asked the doctors to keep him alive so he could spend one last Christmas at home with his wife, which they did. One week after Christmas he was back in hospital with pneumonia and died within 24 hours.
The autopsy showed that his body had only small nodules of cancer, and his pneumonia was mild. Neither was enough to kill him.
Sam Londe died because he, and everyone around him, believed he was going to die.
— In February 2020 you have routine tests, one of which shows a deficiency in Vitamin B12. You have been experiencing symptoms for months, including fatigue, pins and needles, nerve pain, depression, dizziness, problems with walking. You wait another week for a 2nd test to be carried out and in the meantime your symptoms worsen, but you feel glad that you have a diagnosis and the treatment is simple.
But the second test comes back negative, your B12 levels are within normal range.
You are floored by this, confused, and for several hours you sink into despair. What is wrong with you? Why can nobody help you?
You call a friend, who says you’re feeling sorry for yourself. At first these words sting, but after a while you realise his words have pierced the truth, and you wonder if you are ill because you believe you are ill. And if this is possible, perhaps the opposite can also be possible.
In that moment you make a decision. You will sleep deeply tonight. Tomorrow you will wake up, and you will feel well. You will have energy. You will do all the things you want to do.
So you sleep and you wake up the following day and all these things come true.
You do this every day, and every day your symptoms diminish.
Three months later and you now believe you are fit and healthy.
And you are.