Episode available within Canada only.

What if each of us could make the symptoms of an illness disappear? Cast a spell so powerful it would actually rid us of pain, help us walk, or breathe better? For centuries placebos have been thought of as fake medicine involving trickery and deceit, but Brain Magic: The Power of Placebo pulls back the curtains on the proof that placebos can have powerful – and real – effects on our mind and body.

Jennifer Gardy

New research is proving that everything from sugar pills, to saline injections, to sham surgery, can have real healing power. Placebos won’t shrink tumours or cure diabetes, but they can be effective in subjective conditions – where self-appraisal plays a role. And, as we’ll discover in Brain Magic, neuroscience is revealing how our bodies’ response to treatment is heavily influenced by our expectations, prior experiences, our beliefs, and the social cues that surround us.

All kinds of myths regarding placebos are being shattered. One long-held belief is that placebos only work if the patient is deceived into thinking he or she is getting real medication. But in Brain Magic we travel to Boston where we meet Linda, a patient who experienced relief from the symptoms of a painful medical condition, even though she knew she was taking sugar pills. 

The other great myth is that placebos only work on people who are gullible. But whether we respond to a placebo might well be written into our DNA, and have nothing to do with our vulnerabilities. In Brain Magic: The Power of Placebo we’ll meet patients of all ages, with a range of conditions, who have all benefited from placebos.

As we dig deep into the magic power of placebos, we step on to esteemed university campuses across North America where researchers continue to uncover new, and potentially therapeutic, applications of the placebo effect. They are giving an exciting new legitimacy to what was once thought to be “all in the head.”

Credits (Click to expand)


Annette Bradford

associate producer
Robert Ballantyne
Olena Sullivan


directed, produced and written by     

Leora Eisen

field director
Liam O’Rinn

Tina Verma

Murray Green

Michael Sweeney

additional cinematography
Ed Middleton
Andre Perron
Luc Robida
Hans Vanderzande

location sound
Eric Celton
Ben Didsbury
Lee Frank
Diane Gaudreau
Keith Henderson
Mary Wong

sound design
Alan Geldart

graphic design
Jamie Hopkins
Adam Rickner

visual research
Gina Cali

Eric Barnett

music consultant
Patrick Russell

online editing
Edwin Wilkinson

re-recording mix
Mark Wright

associate director
Renée Moreau

resource coordinators
Analisa Amoroso
Megan Beeckmans

unit manager
June Hall

business manager
Documentary Unit
Wilma Alexander

production manager
David Wilson
senior producers
Caroline Underwood
FM Morrison

executive producer
Sue Dando

executive director
Documentary Programming
Mark Starowicz

special thanks
Claire Champigny
Ethan MacDonald

additional images   
Pond 5
The Film Gate
CBC Archives
Discovery Access
the WPA Film Library
The Film Gate LLC

produced with the participation of (CMF LOGO)

The Nature of Things
with David Suzuki

produced by
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation



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