Wired has pub­lished what must be one of the most com­pre­hen­sive arti­cles look­ing at the phe­nom­e­non of the placebo effect.

From its hum­ble begin­nings in WWII with anes­thetist Henry Beecher to the placebo’s tran­si­tion from being treated as a purely psy­cho­log­i­cal trait to a phys­i­o­log­i­cal one; there’s some great mate­r­ial here.

Two com­pre­hen­sive analy­ses of anti­de­pres­sant tri­als have uncov­ered a dra­matic increase in placebo response since the 1980s. One esti­mated that the so-called effect size (a mea­sure of sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance) in placebo groups had nearly dou­bled over that time.

It’s not that the old meds are get­ting weaker, drug devel­op­ers say. It’s as if the placebo effect is some­how get­ting stronger.

The fact that an increas­ing num­ber of med­ica­tions are unable to beat sugar pills has thrown the [phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal] indus­try into cri­sis. The stakes could hardly be higher. In today’s econ­omy, the fate of a long-established com­pany can hang on the out­come of a hand­ful of tests.

Related: Placebo in His­tory.

via @jonahlehrer