Joe Campbell

It’s awe inspiring how far the pharmaceutical industry has come during my lifetime. When I was growing up, the only pills we had in our medicine cabinet were aspirin tablets.

Now, there are pills for practically every ailment and you get an order of side effects at no extra charge. My financial advisor thinks I should invest in pharmaceuticals. I don’t. I think I should invest in side effects. They’re more dependable. Sometimes they show up before the therapeutic effects.

If you’re starting to notice hair loss from male pattern baldness, there are pills to stop and even reverse it. The side effects may include increased body fat. Never mind. There are pills to control weight. The side effects may include sleeplessness. Don’t worry. There are pills to ease insomnia. The side effects may include depression. No problem. There are pills to lighten your mood. The side effects may include hair loss. It’s all right. You’ve just scored a pharmaceutical home run. You’re back where you started and you’ve got all those pretty pills to take besides.

Not only are there pills for practically every ailment. There are pills for non-ailments. Take, for example, recreational drugs. On second thought, don’t take them. You might get arrested.

Unless not being high is an ailment, using recreational drugs to get stoned isn’t medicinal. Unless being pregnant is an ailment, using pills to prevent conception or birth isn’t medicinal either. On the contrary, recreational drugs and birth control pills may cause ailments. The side effects can be sickening.

If you want to recreate, go running; if you don’t want to procreate, practice natural family planning. The side effects can be liberating.

If a woman says she’s on The Pill, you know she doesn’t mean aspirin. That’s how notorious oral contraceptives have become. They’ve taken over an entire category. It’s as though a musician should say he’s on the horn but you know he doesn’t mean trumpet. It goes without saying that he means the foghorn.

Millions of women are on the pill. Through the process of elimination, the rest of us may be on it, too. Pill takers flush female hormones from their contraceptives into rivers and lakes and, for all we know, feminize what we drink. Although it may be a coincidence, strange fish have appeared in their natural habitat and strange people in theirs. Let’s hope this isn’t an inconvenient truth that environmentalists have overlooked.

A lot of research goes into producing and testing new drugs, not to mention their side effects. During testing, some subjects take the drugs while others take placebos. To avoid bias, neither the subjects nor the researchers know who has taken what until the testing is done. It’s rather like the blind leading the blind. This, no doubt, is why we call the tests double blind.

To be approved for sale, drugs have to be more therapeutic than placebos. But through the power of suggestion, placebos are often as therapeutic as drugs. This is good news because placebos are usually just sugar pills. Maybe I should invest in placebos. But only if they’re as good as drugs at producing side effects.

Just recently, I read that caffeine may help prevent Parkinson’s disease and nicotine may help heal Alzheimer’s disease. So I’m thinking that if these popular drugs produce side effects that work against those unpopular ailments, maybe there are drugs, even placebos, whose side effects will work against what ails me. Until I discover them, my favourite side effect, from the few prescriptions I’ve had to endure, remains a resolute will to avoid medication.

I realize that drugs are more sociable than placebos. They interact with each other. They do the same with herbal remedies, food and drink. Drugs are not prejudiced. Placebos are more reserved, but if they’re less gregarious, they’re also less addictive. If you’re seeking adventure, not to mention risk, you might want to invest in drugs.

Placebos aren’t content to mimic drugs. They also mimic alternative therapies, like herbal remedies, yoga and acupuncture. Skeptics suggest that, as with some drugs, the placebo effect is the only thing the alternatives have going for them.

This is another reason to invest in placebos. I’m hoping that some day we’ll control the power of suggestion to the point where the placebo effect supplants all therapies. Unlike “physician heal thyself,” an ancient proverb, “patient heal thyself” will be a modern truth, and public health care a distant memory. But without public health care to keep us dependent, the welfare state may not survive. Pity.