Is Meditation Just A Placebo?

Meditation has many benefits for those who choose to pursue a consistent practice. But could that all just be a placebo effect? 

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

This would be a tricky one, because meditation is a bit what you make of it, and while there are similarities between meditation and the placebo effect, meditation allows you to benefit in ways you hadn’t planned for before. 

My point is there’s a key difference between planning for something to happen, as opposed to letting it happen and bearing with it as it’s taking place in the pleasant moment. 

Should the event be pleasant, as much as unpleasant. However, meditation has been seen as a more effective means against pain, as opposed to the placebo effect. But can work and have their place, but that doesn’t mean they have to be mutually exclusive. 

If you plan for the meditation to go a certain way, you could choose to do a meditation that aims to achieve a purpose you want. 

The output of such meditation, some would argue, is no different than the placebo effect. For this occasion, I’ll explain some of the differences between the placebo effect and meditation, as well as some of the similarities and how they work so well together. 

Placebo Can Ease The Meditation

While it isn’t the greatest idea to have expectations about how the meditation will go, planning to make the meditation work may have a spot in making the meditation enjoyable, for the predisposition variable. As in the principle of placebo working for meditation.

Almost as if we’re arming ourselves and planning for the meditation to be good, even though we are experiencing the meditation through a filter, and anything unpleasant we experience could be downplayed by the mind. 

Many can’t bear to sit through an entire session because they are exposed to certain thoughts and emotions that may shake them off, but that’s not everyone. 

Some don’t experience these unpleasant thoughts and emotions, despite going through these every day. 

So in that sense, meditation can be used solely for this retreating purpose to let the mind take a break from all the thinking. 

This can, over time, lead to the successful adoption of meditation. With the placebo effect, however, many assume that those exposed to the effect can’t know about such an effect, but when patients were given sugar pills against their pain and told about the placebo effect they had, it still made an effect

If we use this equation and apply it to meditation, it can lead to better meditation experiences. 

A placebo effect can be great as getting us started to experience the fruits of meditation, but unlike meditation, the placebo effect can wear off. 

Placebo vs. Meditation: Long-Term

Some see meditation and placebo as the same thing because with meditation, you are in some way planning for things to go your way, even if you open yourself up for the experience. 

And then, what you end up getting from meditation is many times more than what you had planned for. 

However, when it comes to long-term sustainability, the effects of meditation can last longer than the placebo effect. 

The effects of the placebo effect can fade, whereas the effect of meditation can stay from anywhere from 7 years to a lifetime. 

Some may benefit from a placebo more than they benefit from the meditation, since meditation, while it’s widely appealing and everyone should give a try, may not be for everyone since it can have a dark side

Can Meditation Be a Placebo?

Depending on which meditation you choose to do, you will often get different results but the principles will often remain the same. 

Even so, meditation can indeed be a placebo, if you plan on something to happen post-meditation and predisposing yourself to that, and it ends up happening, you may assimilate meditation with the placebo effect. 

But I find that meditation is more about allowing for things to happen rather than deliberately needing them to happen, which is why I’m hesitant to put meditation and placebo in the same category. 

To find the key differences between meditation, if you had relied on the placebo up until this point, you can experiment with integrating meditation in your day-to-day life and for two months, notice if you see anything different. That should help you spot the differences between meditation and placebo. 

Meditation can mimic many of the benefits of the placebo though, which is why it can be common to see the two as the same. But meditation is a life-long practice, whereas a placebo may help someone temporarily. 

Using a placebo implies we are deliberately directing how we feel or are gonna feel in one specific direction, whereas with meditation, we embrace what comes our way and we learn to handle such things in their present form. 

Now, I’m not saying a placebo can’t be used for the long-term, since everyone is different. 

Placebo can be a form of coping, whereas, with meditation, coping can be one purpose the meditation is used for, while simultaneously embracing the entire picture, which at times implies acceptance of something that may be unpleasant, but that already passed the coping stage. 

Ultimately becoming indifferent to what would otherwise have affected us to the same degree. 

In some cases, meditation goes as far as embracing such pain and hardship as part of the journey. 

Some, even deliberately expose themselves to pain to increase their pain tolerance, something that would often be unthinkable for those relying on placebos, as a placebo is generally getting away from the pain.  

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter as much if meditation is seen as a placebo effect if that’s what helps someone get started. 

What matters is sticking through and there aren’t wrong reasons to start meditating. 

From a subjective point of view, there isn’t really a black and white answer on whether meditation is just a placebo, since everyone will have their interpretation of meditation. 

And some may give up on the practice too soon, whereas others look up to the practice, even when they themselves haven’t experienced the benefits of meditation. 

Final Thoughts

Meditation can be a difficult practice to master and stick with over the long term, whereas the placebo effect can have immediate results. 

However, there are also some cases where meditation can have immediate results because of our predisposition to the practice. 

The better the mindset is for meditation, the easier it is to integrate into their routine, in which case, the placebo effect can be helpful, but not always reliable. Successful meditation implies we let go of expectations and attachment to certain outcomes, post and during the meditation. 

Now, meditation doesn’t have to replace the placebo effect, if someone uses the placebo effect because they find it helps them, they should continue with it. 

Meditation can just be an additional help, and in some cases, the replacement for the placebo, depending on person to person and their level of tolerance, as well as how they handle pain. 

But considering meditation can be a better way to handle pain, many may gravitate to meditation more than just a placebo, considering the long-term benefits of meditation and considering how these benefits can be self-sustained. 

Meditation isn’t always a quick fix, however, as many placebos can be. And while it can’t it’s generally not the rule but the exception. 

Skip to content