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'Wonder drug' TV experiment in Blackpool was a real pain

Emma Mitchell
Emma Mitchell
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A Blackpool mother-of-three has spoken of her disappointment after being duped in a TV documentary about  a new “wonder drug” for chronic back pain.


Emma Mitchell was one of 117 sufferers from the resort who took part in a BBC Horizon programme thinking they were undergoing trials of a powerful new painkiller.

Dr Michael Mosley with some of the patients who took part

Dr Michael Mosley with some of the patients who took part

In fact all the patients were given a harmless placebo in an experiment devised by Dr Michael Mosley to test if psychology can overcome pain.

Amazingly almost half of those who took part in Can My Mind Heal My Body? felt the pills gave them relief - some even said their pain had completely disappeared.

READ MORE: Blackpool volunteers take part in TV experiment

But the “drug” was merely ground up rice. And Emma said: “We were really disappointed at the end when we were told there was no new wonder drug.

“I didn’t feel any difference in my pain level. But the biggest impact for me was seeing other people who were really angry. You feel for them.

“The main focus of everyone was we just wanted there to be something that would help us to feel normal again. The idea was that we could get this drug and everyone could get better.

“But you could see the disappointment in their faces. There were quite a few who felt like that. Personally I still got something out of it. I think it was worth taking part becuase it has pushed me to be more positive and look at other areas. I am seeking alternative therapies now.

“But I was still disappointed with the way it was done.”

All 117 chosen to take part suffered from chronic back pain which was seriously affecting their lives.

Dr Mosley said: “People think only the weak-willed, foolish or ignorant will respond to a placebo, whereas we know none of these things are true.

“The only thing significant about the people who respond to the placebo is they tend to be people who are more open to the experience.

“There are lots of things that make pain worse, and one of them is being lonely.”