Fringe Medicine: Part 1 – Hypnosis

On the Edge

Welcome, MedSci Readers to an exciting new series about alternative medicine and other unorthodox medical science fields.

For those not familiar with the term (or the associated TV show), "Fringe Science" is a term that refers to science that is on the edge of the scientific establishments. These are ideas that depart significantly from the mainstream ideas that scientists hold near and dear. As such, most scientists see "Fringe" medicine or science as highly unlikely or implausible ideas – either that or just weakly confirmed ones.

Where pseudoscience and other things of that nature lack any scientific method of any kind, Fringe science actually tries to employ the scientific method to answer inquiries about their wild ideas.

For a long time, scientists have overlooked fringe medicine – and even to this day, nothing will ever be able to replace a physician’s healthcare for ailments. However, people have reported a moderate level of success combining herbs in their houses, undergoing hypnosis as an alternative to anesthesia, and things of that nature.

Waving of the Clock

So, for our first discussion, let’s tackle hypnotism.

Beginning in the 1700s, a man called Frank Mesmer (where the term mesmerize comes from) believed that the body had a magnetic field that could be manipulated – his experiments initially used magnets and suggestions. He eventually came to believe that the same effect could be observed by waving an object (or even a hand) in front of a person’s eyes. It is believed that from Mesmer’s work, modern psychologists have come to use objects to relax a patient into a highly suggestive state.

So, for starters, what exactly is hypnosis? Hypnosis is the state that occurs when a person is highly relaxed and suggestible. To debunk popular belief, stage hypnotists actually perform the exact same thing as psychologists – the only difference is that stage hypnotists then proceed to have their fun with the member of the audience. At the end of the day, there is no amount of hypnotic power that could cause you to do something you don’t want to do. Therefore, it speaks volumes about the character of people who are hypnotized as to what their deep inhibitions prohibit them from doing.

Regardless, the real reason a person would want hypnosis medically would be to reduce pain. Now, for the sake of being impartial, there are many anecdotal success stories of patients who have auto-hypnotized or who have been induced into a hypnotic state in order to alleviate pain of all sorts – even pain associated with anesthesia. The anesthesia cases where the patient remarks not having felt a thing are truly remarkable – the patient is lulled into such a relaxed state that somehow, they are able to block out the pain receptors.

However, it should be noted that not everything plays out like this in a "hypnotic surgery". Chances are, unless you’re highly suggestible and ready to accept your hypnotist’s suggestions, you won’t be able to achieve such a level of relaxation and will inevitably require anesthesia. As a matter of fact, botched hypnotism experiments are more common than the successes.

My advice – leave hypnotism where it belongs – at a show to make people lose their inhibitions. Not in a medical facility where your life is on the line, because no matter how hypnotized you are, nothing can replace general anesthesia for a major surgery (at least as far as we know of today).

Come back next time when we’ll explore more "Fringe Medicine".