A while back I watched a little minidocumentary about a startup company and I remember almost none of it except one part. I remember the guy talking about how he felt like he had an idea with the potential to become a billion dollar company. Today, here and now, I'm going to give mine away. It's not every day that someone gives away such a valuable thing as a billion dollar idea. Today is that day.
You might take umbrage to the last paragraph on the notion that it's possible to even have a "billion dollar idea". You are right, of course. This idea is so good that once you start making piles of cash, everyone will be coming out of the woodwork to compete with you. Proper execution includes fending off rivals, navigating a brutal regulatory system, and possibly fixing a few legal obstacles. The industry we will be targeting is absolutely flush with cash. The drug industry. And our angle into the drug industry is with the single most successful drug in human history. No, not penicillin. Much bigger. The placebo! My billion dollar idea is a placebo pharmacy. What could possibly go wrong?
Now I know what you are thinking: there are already placebo pharmacies. In fact, selling snake oils of various types is one of the oldest businesses in the history of humankind. This idea, however, is to have doctors write fake prescriptions and have pharmacists fill fake prescriptions, and have everyone lie to the patient. This may seem unethical, but it is medically necessary! I promise. What happens if the idea catches on and everyone else starts making sugar pills to compete with you? Do what big drug companies always do, crush them with patents, regulations, and legal maneuvering!
The only requirement for effective placebo treatment is that the patient must be deceived. This means doctor's need to be able to write prescriptions for your placebo drugs and patients need to not find out they are placebos. There are many ways you could accomplish this but you will need a sufficiently painless way for doctors and pharmacists to keep up on the names.
Not only do colorful pills work better than white ones, but certain colors have certain side effects. Blue pills, of course, will make you drowsy. Yellow ones will keep you awake. Design your pills accordingly. Version, version, version.
The more impressive the bottle, the more side effects that are listed, and the more the doctor warns the patient of the potency of the drug, the more powerful the placebo effect. A doctor in a white coat gives stronger placebos than a doctor without his coat. You can't make this stuff up.
This is amazing, and true. Placebos are like the luxury item of the drug world. Price is the ultimate signal. What could work better to a young businesses advantage than this? You see, it's not "unethical" (ethics, bah) to sell insanely expensive sugar pills. It's medically necessary!
Last but not certainly not least, placebos are getting stronger! Contrast that with sissy antibiotics which are losing their war with the theory of evolution. Astoundingly, over time, as the human race is inundated with more and more advertising and faith in the medical and drug industries, the placebo effect is increasing. This particular industry has been around forever, and will be around for a very, very long time.
All joking aside, I do wonder if there is a way to "legitimately" (read: ethically) take advantage of the placebo effect. There are entire industries based on the placebo effect right now. There is billions of dollars being made by people selling treatments with absolutely no proven medical efficacy whatsoever. Would you consider it ethical to sell a drug that worked solely on placebo effect? Most people would presumably say no. However, could it be? What if you had a deal worked out with doctors and pharmacies for placebo drugs. The doctor wrote a prescription. The insurance company "covered" the cost. And the patient was misled into believing it was an effective and expensive (and colorful!) drug?
It seems to me unfortunate that we leave the effective placebo therapy for the scam artists.