Thanks to psychiatry’s drugs, I have a mind that can appreciate the beauty around me, but on the other hand, thanks to psychiatry’s drugs, I am dying faster than you are. Lauren Slater, Blue Dreams
Psychologist and writer Lauren Slater, knows all too well the benefits and disadvantages of taking psychotropic drugs—she’s done it for 35 years. Diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, she’s not only been on Prozac (she authored the bestselling Prozac Diary in 1998) but also various other medications over the years. She believes there are physiological tradeoffs to taking these.
Her new book, Blue Dreams: The Science and the Story of the Drugs that Changed Our Minds, is the result, in part, of a personal desire to find out deeper details about the drugs she’s taken and the possible effects on her body; and also, to find out what lies ahead in the field of psychopharmacology, not only for herself but for everyone.
On the science behind the category of antidepressants, for example, Slater notes that it’s iffy—though not marketed that way. Consumers are told about chemical imbalances and low serotonin levels that need correcting. “’There is no proof that a depressed person has a chemical imbalance,’ Slater writes. ‘When you choose nevertheless to put that person on a medication that will alter neurotransmitter levels in his or her brain, then in effect you are causing a chemical imbalance rather than curing one'” (Parul Sehgal, New York Times).
Research, on the other hand, does show that current types of antidepressants, such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s), work about two-thirds of the time, as did the older tricyclic antidepressants.
“The drug Slater relies on is called Zyprexa,” states Sehgal. “Curiously enough it’s the same drug Andrew Solomon described taking almost 20 years ago, in his National Book Award-winning history of depression, ‘The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.’ He writes of the relief and anguish the drug brought him with eerie similarity, of having to choose his mind over his body.”
What may bring hope in the future are the psychedelics, such as LSD, MDMA, and “magic mushrooms,” believe it or not. As Slater expresses to Olga Khazan, The Atlantic:
The beauty of them is you can take them just once or twice. You get a significant mind shift from that. That can be curative, especially for things like addiction, where you can take a psychedelic and realize on the psychedelic that you are ruining your life and the lives of those around you. You can have that kind of deep realization and then deep commitment to change, which can work.
That’s what you’re trying to do in psychotherapy. You’re trying to shift a person’s paradigm, or a person’s plot they have of their life. My life is terrible, I hate my job. My spouse and I are always arguing, my house is a mess. This is a story that a person tells themselves about their life. Psychedelics blow that story open and suddenly there’s room for a new narrative. I don’t see anything coming along that’s going to be quite as powerful as what those drugs have to offer.
In addition to the psychedelics, Slater says that in the future there will be “neural implants that provide a ‘malleable and reversible form of psychosurgery’” (Publishers Weekly).
Could this or the psychedelics really prove to be reliable alternatives to psychotropic drugs? That remains to be seen.