Characters consuming what they think is a drug, they start acting accordingly, but turns out to be a placebo. Whether it's an oregano joint, a mysterious pill that turns out to be aspirin, or non-alcoholic beer, you'd never know it by the way the person is acting.
Related to Magic Feather (which is what The Placebo Effect is called around here).
See also I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin! and Drunk on Milk, for when this isn't an accident. If a character deliberately pretends to be drunk/high, they're Playing Drunk. Compare Beat Bag, fake drugs and other substances which don't necessary produce a placebo high.
- Persona 4: The Animation uses this in the club of episode 15. Half the characters start acting as if they're drunk, even after it's confirmed that there's no alcohol served there. Carries over to the next day, where the ones who acted drunk don't seem to remember much of the previous day. Except Yu Narukami, who mentions "I took things a little too seriously."
- The subject of a comedy routine by Adam Sandler in which a partying guy keeps telling the host how awesome his (acid/weed/beer) is, only to be told it's none of those things (the beer was nonalcoholic).
- Spider-Man: Peter getting drunk at Aunt May and Jonah Jameson Senior's wedding was retconned into this several issues later. He had about half a glass of actual champagne, but was so nervous about seeing Mary-Jane again that he never noticed his amused roommate was filling his glass with soda.
- Happens in Eurotrip when two characters walk into a Jamaican coffee shop in Amsterdam and order what they think are hash brownies. They're just regular ones.
- In Go!, the gang sells aspirin to clueless teens as ecstasy, and they all pretend to get high. It helps that Ronna convinces them to smoke "like, a lot of pot" to go with it...
- In Blotto, Laurel and Hardy get drunk off a bottle of liquor that's actually tea put there by Stanley's wife.
- In 50 First Dates Adam Sandler's character will often give his dates large drinks which he says are alcoholic, but really aren't. He's found that this way the women get just as slutty as they would if they were actually drunk, but still retain all their motor skills when having sex.
- In The Birdcage, Albert believes that the "Pirin tablets" that Agador gives him actually calm him down. Guess what two letters Agador scratches off the tablets? That's right, they're really just aspirin.
- An episode of Absolutely Fabulous has the characters travel to France. Patsy gets bored and does some coke, which loosens her up enough to tolerate Saffron's presence and play table tennis. On the way back home, the drugs are found by airport security, but they determine that they were fake all along. Patsy is horrified, not because she spent a fortune on phony drugs, but because this meant she actually enjoyed playing table tennis.
- Arrested Development:
- Maeby drinks some virgin martinis and thinks she's drunk. George Michael tries to explain that "virgin" means non-alcoholic, but the venture is fruitless.
- There was also an incident where they drank several bottles of Gob's fake wine. It ends with the two of them getting to second base
- On Murphy Brown, Corky throws a New Year's Eve party and makes it a point not to serve any alcohol (if a guest brought a bottle, she gave it to the party next door), as Murphy is a recovering alcoholic. Miles drinks some of the punch and acts drunk - until Corky tells him there was no alcohol in it.
- Raj on the The Big Bang Theory needs alcohol before he can talk to women. In one episode he has a beer and starts hitting on Summer Glau, until Howard points out the beer was non-alcoholic, and Raj can't continue.
- In Degrassi: The Next Generation Sean swaps the Ecstasy JT and Toby bought for aspirin. The two 7th graders act like lunatics for an hour or two while Sean laughs his ass off.
- Frasier combines this with Intoxication Ensues(the inversion). Niles gets a hash brownie, but Martin eats it without realising what it is, and replaces it with a normal brownie. And even when Frasier actually explains what happened, Niles still doesn't realise:
Niles: Well, someone must feel pretty out of it, being the only one here who isn't completely burnt!
Frasier: Oh, knock it off, you imbecile! You're as sober as I am!
- Freaks and Geeks after the geeks swap the beer at the freaks' Wild Teen Party for non-alcoholic beer. Only Seth Rogen notices the difference, and used it to his advantage to win a ton of money at Quarters.
- In one sketch on French and Saunders, two teen girls sit in their room describing their LSD trip with vivid detail. It isn't until one friend realizes that her tab tastes minty that her companion lets slip that the pill was just a Tic-Tac.
"Look at my Pocahontas curtains — they're like really Pocahontasy!"
- On Modern Family Luke and Manny steal Gloria's tequila and pound some shots, wincing at how strong it is. Gloria had seen them eyeing the bottle beforehand and had replaced it with water.
- In The Inbetweeners Will swallows a quantity of hash without first preparing it for consumption. Despite this it still has some strange effects on him, mostly making his arms twitch.
- My Family had a marijuana joint that actually turned out to be made of cinnamon and oregano powered by the placebo effect shared by Ben and Susan. Effects range from Susan overcoming her habitual mental block as to how horrible her cooking is, to Ben correcting the lyrics to Jimi Hendrix songs at the top of his voice.
- On one episode of Night Court, Roz takes Christine to a bar to bond and Christine gets really drunk on the drink she orders. At the end of the episode, Christine asks Roz what was in the drink. Roz reveals that the drink contained absolutely no alcohol.
- An episode of the '90s talk show parody Night Stand with Dick Dietrick had host Dick and his assistant Mueller trying out a new drug that was all the necessary drugs for a day in a single pill. Not knowing he took a placebo, Dick's first words after taking the pill: "Whoa! Did anyone else just see a cow fly by here?" Needless to say, it gets better.
- In one episode of Peep Show Sophie and her new friends from Brighton take Mark to a gay club and they all do pills... except Mark, who merely pretends to swallow his and then pretends to be feeling its effects. He gives himself away when he claims "I think I'm getting the famous munchies!"
- Saturday Night Live:
- A Christmas sketch of "The Delicious Dish" has the hosts drunk on eggnog. That is until they discover it is non-alcoholic eggnog.
- They also once go tripping on 'shrooms. Not psychedelic mushrooms, just your average supermarket mushrooms.
- An episode of Welcome Back, Kotter had Horseshack stumbling around drunk on beer. When the other sweathogs wrest the "beer" away from him, it turns out only to be A&R Root Beer.
- Brian injures himself on one episode of Wings and tries to kill the pain with beer. Unfortunately, he finds Joe's stash of non-alcoholic beer to use. Not surprisingly, the Placebo Effect works until Joe points out the beer is non-alcoholic.
- In A Different World Season 2 episode, "If You Like Pilgrim Coladas", Whitley and Kim go to a bar with a fake ID and are found out when they act drunk after several of the eponymous drink, which contains no alcohol.
- In The X-Files episode "Babylon", Agent Mulder convinces a clearly sceptical Agent Einstein to give him magic mushrooms so he can commune with a guy in a coma. After Mulder wanders the streets of Texas in a Mushroom Samba Vision Quest, he wakes up in a hospital bed where Einstein tells him she was so sceptical, she didn't give him magic mushrooms at all but a placebo. This being The X-Files, however, it still worked.
- In Persona 4 Teddie, Yukiko, and Rise get utterly smashed at a nightclub while on a school trip... except Naoto informs you that the club doesn't even serve alcohol.
- Homestar Runner: One Strong Bad e-mail has Strong Bad performing a science experiment of the effects of caffeine on Strong Sad. So he slips a spoonful of Sanka — instant decaf — into Strong Sad's orange juice, and Strong Sad instantly goes into a caffeinated blitz. Oddly subverted; Strong Sad didn't know anything was being slipped into his orange juice, so it can't be a placebo effect. Apparently his body is just that sensitive to caffeine.
- In one Dork Tower strip, Matt's stoner brother thinks he is high after smoking Matt's basing floc.
- Referenced in The Order of the Stick when Soul-Splice Vaarsuvius starts to behave in an evil manner, even though the soul splices can't actually affect their alignment. According to the fiends, "A good way to get a good person to do something horrible is to convince them they're not responsible for their actions." It's compared to someone drinking beer they didn't know was non-alcoholic and feeling drunk anyway because they expected to be.
- Happens at least twice in Questionable Content.
- Raven says she got drunk at a party by having seven Shirley Temples. "You can't even taste the alcohol in them!"
- In another strip, Penelope relates the story of how her female friends in college would get so drunk they'd make out with each other, all the time.
Faye: I think you're confusing bisexuality with substance abuse.
Penelope: No, but I think they were.
- Girls with Slingshots: After Hazel gets uncharacteristically prudish while accompaniying Jamie and her younger sister, Fiona on a trip to a lingerie store, Fiona offers Hazel a pull from her hidden flask. Hazel goes from mortified to Genki Girl after a couple of swallows. Fiona confesses to Jamie that her flask was just water. Her boobs are just that awesome.
- Two Lumps: Snooch made the mistake of watching a special on rock stars and copying their cocaine use ... sort of.
Eben: Tell me you didn't actually SNORT an entire box of Pixie Stix from 1987.
- Family Guy:
- In one Cutaway Gag, Stewie thought he had drunk some alcohol but it was only grape juice.
- When all the family were beating each other up Brian gave everyone some of his "prescription" Happy Pills and everyone blissed out. Once Brian revealed that they were only sugar pills they went back to fighting each other.
- Happens twice in Clone High, which parodied Very Special Episodes:
- First, when Abe buys non-alcoholic beer for the Wild Teen Party:
Cleo: This might be the beer talking—
Abe: I doubt it.
Cleo: But I think you're hot.
- Also happens in the episode "Raisin the Stakes: A Rock Opera in Three Acts" which is about teens going wild and hippie after smoking... raisins. Unusual for this trope, the raisins are actually sold by an Aggressive Drug Dealer, who turns out to be Special Guest Star Jack Black, who had been hired to raise sales for raisins.
- First, when Abe buys non-alcoholic beer for the Wild Teen Party:
- The Venture Bros.: Unfortunately the victim of the prank was allergic to oregano.
- Zig-zagged in the Phineas and Ferb episode "The Ballad of Badbeard". Candace touches Orange Moss in the woods, which she was told causes wild hallucinations, and begins acting insane, "thinking" Perry is a spy, imagining a sassy, anthropomorphic zebra calling her "Kevin", and confusing a self-destruct button for a vending machine. At the end of the episode, after her "recovery", her grandmother explains that it is actually Blue Moss that causes hallucinations, and that the only reason Candace was "crazy" was because of the "power of suggestion". Just then, Candace touches some Blue Moss.
- In one episode of Beavis and Butt-Head, the duo get drunk on non-alcoholic beer. They knew it was non-alcoholic, they just didn't know alcohol is the part that makes you drunk.
Police: Hey, you guys aren't drunk! You're just stupid!
- In an episode of Celebrity Deathmatch, Nick Diamond gets some hemp clothing from Woody Harrelson; unfortunately, the clothes catch fire, and after inadvertently getting a face full of smoke, Nick spends the rest of the episode stoned out of his gourd. Hemp, of course, is not the same thing as marijuana and does not contain THC, and when Harrelson points this out at the end of the episode, Nick is very embarrassed (he is naked and playing the bongos at this point).
- The Simpsons, "Deep Space Homer": To prove that space travel is within reach of the common man, NASA selects Barney and Homer to go through a training course before one of them gets an actual rocket trip. Once deprived of alcohol, Barney passes with flying colours and is given a congratulatory glass of champagne. He immediately goes nuts ("It begins!"), chugs the rest of the bottle, grabs a jetpack and flies off. The scientists don't understand, as it was non-alcoholic champagne.
- Bob's Burgers: Tina's new friend, 'bad girl' Tammy, invites herself over when the parents are out, along with Jimmy Jr. and Zeke. She sneaks a bottle of margarita mix from the liquor cabinet and proceeds to party. The kids are getting high, but mostly from a sugar buzz — Louise says her mom uses the stuff as hummingbird food.
- Out There has an episode where Chris takes a bunch of (what he thinks is) high-grade Mexican aphrodisiacs, and spends the majority of the episode running around without pants. They were actually just multivitamins.
- Studies have shown that kids given non-alcoholic beverages will act drunk when told they are alcoholic. Placebo effect + conformity + societal expectations = just as potent as chemicals.
- Even in situations where everyone understands that no intoxicating substances are being taken by anyone, some people will act in ways that mirror the behavior of drunk people because that's what you do at parties: you go wild and get crazy, even when you're stone sober.
- There's quite a bit of evidence that there is no such thing as a sugar high — it's all the placebo effect. A 1994 study found that mothers who thought their children had been given sugar reported more wild behavior (and hovered closer, and criticized more) than mothers who were told their children had been given unsweetened drinks, regardless of the actual activity levels of the children.
- "Holy Ghost intoxication" is usually written off as this by critics of this religious teaching, suggesting that the recipients of this so-called "blessing of God" are actually falling for a placebo effect through autosuggestion.