The Madness of Drugs

There is always a question of what is making the world so crazy. And it’s not exactly a new question. “Cancer, like insanity,” Stanislou Tanochou wrote in 1843, “seems to increase with the progress of civilization.” Or go back earlier to 1809, the year Thomas Paine died and Abraham Lincoln was born, when John Haslam explained how common had become this concern of civilization going off the rails: “The alarming increase in Insanity, as might naturally be expected, has incited many persons to an investigation of this disease.” (For background, see: The Crisis of Identity.)

Was it changes of diet with the introduction of sugar, the first surplus yields of wheat, and a high-carb diet in general? If not the food itself, could it be the food additives such as glutamate and propionate? Was it the pollution from industrialization such as the chemicals in our food supply from industrial agriculture and industrial production, the pollution in the air we breathe and water we drink, and the spikes of toxic exposure with lead having been introduced to new products? Was it urbanization with 97% of the world’s population still in rural areas at the beginning of the 19th century followed by the majority of Westerners having moved to the cities a few generations later? Or was it the consequence of urbanization and industrialization as seen with increasing inequality of wealth, resources, and power that put the entire society under strain?

I’ve entertained all those possibilities over the years. And I’m of the opinion that they’re all contributing factors. Strong evidence can be shown for each one. But modernity saw another change as well. It was the era of science and that shaped medicine, especially drugs. In general, drugs became more common, whether medicinally or recreationally, even some thing so simple as the colonial trade of sugar and tobacco. Then later there were hardcore drugs like opium and cocaine that became increasingly common over the 19th century.

The 20th century, of course, pushed this to a whole new level. Drugs were everywhere. Consider the keto diet that, in the 1920s, showed a promising treatment or even cure for epileptic seizures, but shortly after that the drug companies came up with medications and the keto research dried up, even though those medications never came close to being as effective and some of them caused permanent harm to the patient, something rarely admitted by doctors (see the story of Charlie Abrams, son of the Hollywood produce Jim Abrams). Drugs seemed more scientific and modern humanity had fallen under the thrall of scientism. Ascie Dupont’s advertising slogan went, “Better Living Through Chemistry”.

It was irrelevant that most of the drugs never lived up to the hype, as the hype was endless. As research has shown, the placebo effect makes each new pharmaceutical seemingly effective, until shortly later the drug companies invent another drug and unsurprisingly the old drug stops showing the same benefits it did previously. Our hopes and fantasies are projected onto the next equivalent of a sugar pill and the placebo effect just goes on and on, as does the profit industry.

That isn’t to dismiss the actual advancements of science. But we now know that even the drugs that are beneficial to some people, from antidepressants to statins, are overprescribed and may be harming more people than they are helping. Part of this is because our scientific knowledge has been lacking, sometimes actively suppressed. It turns out that depression is not a neurotransmitter deficiency nor that cholesterol is bad for the body. Drugs that mess with the body in fundamental ways often have severe side effects and the drug companies have gone to extreme lengths to hide the consequences, as their profit model depends upon an ignorant and unquestioning population of citizen-consumers.

This is not a minor issue. The evidence points to statins making some people irritable to the point of violence and there is a statistically significant increase of violent death among statin users. That is on top of an increase of neurocognitive decline in general, as the brain requires cholesterol to function normally. Or consider how some painkillers might also be disrupting the physiological mechanisms underlying empathy and so, heavy regular usage, might contribute to sociopathy. It’s unsurprising that psychiatric medications can change behavior and personality, but no one expects such dire consequences when going to the drugstore to pick up their medication for asthma or whatever.

We are living in an era when patients, in many cases, can’t trust their own doctors. There is no financial incentive to honestly inform patients so that they can make rational choices based on balancing the benefits and harms. We know the immense influence drug companies have over doctors that happens through legal forms of bribery, from paid vacations to free meals and supplies. It’s related to not only why patients are kept in the dark but so are most doctors. It just so happens that drug company funding of medical school curriculum and continuing education for doctors doesn’t include education for effective dietary and lifestyle changes that are inexpensive or even free (i.e., no profit). This is why most doctors fail a basic test of nutritional knowledge. That needs to change.

This problem is just one among many. As I pointed out, there are many factors that are throwing gasoline on the fire. Whatever are the causes, the diseases of civilization, including but not limited to mental illness, is worsening with every generation and this is a centuries-old trend. It’s interesting that this has happened simultaneous with the rise of science. It was the hubris of the scientific mindset (and related technological industrialization) that has caused much of the harm, but it is also because of science that we are beginning to understand the harm we’ve done and what exactly are the causal mechanisms behind it. We must demand that science be turned into a tool not of private interest but of public good.

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The medications that change who we are
by Zaria Gorvett

They’ve been linked to road rage, pathological gambling, and complicated acts of fraud. Some make us less neurotic, and others may even shape our social relationships. It turns out many ordinary medications don’t just affect our bodies – they affect our brains. Why? And should there be warnings on packets? […]

According to Golomb, this is typical – in her experience, most patients struggle to recognise their own behavioural changes, let alone connect them to their medication. In some instances, the realisation comes too late: the researcher was contacted by the families of a number of people, including an internationally renowned scientist and a former editor of a legal publication, who took their own lives.

We’re all familiar with the mind-bending properties of psychedelic drugs – but it turns out ordinary medications can be just as potent. From paracetamol (known as acetaminophen in the US) to antihistamines, statins, asthma medications and antidepressants, there’s emerging evidence that they can make us impulsive, angry, or restless, diminish our empathy for strangers, and even manipulate fundamental aspects of our personalities, such as how neurotic we are.

In most people, these changes are extremely subtle. But in some they can also be dramatic. […]

But Golomb’s most unsettling discovery isn’t so much the impact that ordinary drugs can have on who we are – it’s the lack of interest in uncovering it. “There’s much more of an emphasis on things that doctors can easily measure,” she says, explaining that, for a long time, research into the side-effects of statins was all focused on the muscles and liver, because any problems in these organs can be detected using standard blood tests.

This is something that Dominik Mischkowski, a pain researcher from Ohio University, has also noticed. “There is a remarkable gap in the research actually, when it comes to the effects of medication on personality and behaviour,” he says. “We know a lot about the physiological effects of these drugs – whether they have physical side effects or not, you know. But we don’t understand how they influence human behaviour.” […]

In fact, DeRubeis, Golomb and Mischkowski are all of the opinion that the drugs they’re studying will continue to be used, regardless of their potential psychological side-effects. “We are human beings, you know,” says Mischkowski. “We take a lot of stuff that is not necessarily always good in every circumstance. I always use the example of alcohol, because it’s also a painkiller, like paracetamol. We take it because we feel that it has a benefit for us, and it’s OK as long as you take it in the right circumstances and you don’t consume too much.”.

But in order to minimise any undesirable effects and get the most out of the staggering quantities of medications that we all take each day, Mischkowski reiterates that we need to know more. Because at the moment, he says, how they are affecting the behaviour of individuals – and even entire societies – is largely a mystery.

Physical Health, Mental Health

There is a growing field focused on the relationship between diet, nutrition, neurocognition, and psychiatry. I’ve written about this previously (The Agricultural Mind; Ketogenic Diet and Neurocognitive Health; & Fasting, Calorie Restriction, and Ketosis). But there aren’t many well known experts in this area.

One of the better known figures in this convergence of fields is Dr. Georgia Ede, a psychiatrist with a medical degree and a B.A. in Biology. She has completed a graduate course in nutrition at Harvard where she also completed her residency. Besides psychiatry, her employment includes as laboratory research assistant, psychopharmacologist, and nutrition consultant. Her writings regularly appear in Psychology Today.

Another major expert is Dr. Ann Childers. She is a psychiatric physician for children and adults. Besides being a lecturer and podcaster, she has written chapters for textbooks. She is a member of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, the Nutrition and Metabolism Society, Obesity Medicine Association, and Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

There is another authority in this area, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. She holds a degree in Medicine and Postgraduate degrees in both Neurology and Human Nutrition. After years working as a neurologist and neurosurgeon, she now practices as a nutritionist and used to run the Cambridge Nutrition Clinic. She is the founder of the widely used Gut and Psychology (GAPS) Diet.

I’ll mention some other names. Carol Simontacchi was a certified clinical nutritionist and hosted a nationally syndicated radio show. She was also a writer, including a book on this topic, Crazy Makers. Last but not least, there is L. Amber O’Hearn. By education, she is a data scientist. In dealing with her own physical and mental health issues, she tried a ketogenic diet and then a carnivore diet. She is a major figure and speaker in the low-carb community.

An up-and-comer is Dr. Paul Saladino, a convert to the carnivore diet and emphasizes the importance of nutrition. He has a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and a Master of Health Science and Physician Assistant degree. He worked as a PA in cardiology, but got frustrated with the inadequacies of conventional medicine. He went back to school to get his MD with a focus on integrative and functional medicine, during which time he studied under the famous Dr. Andrew Weil. At this time, he also got certified as a functional medicine practitioner. He recently completed his residency in psychiatry and has had a private practice for a while.

Anther psychiatrist is Dr. Chris Palmer. He “received his medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine. His internship and psychiatry residency were at McLean Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School. He’s currently the director of the Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education at McLean Hospital. In addition he is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.” He does many talks and interviews. In a discussion with Dr. Saladino, they explored the connection of metabolic health and mental psychiatric conditions (Paradigm shiftng treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar with Ketogenic diets. Chris Palmer, MD). Along with published papers, he writes for Psychology Today.

Heck, while I’m at it, I’ll also give honorable mention to some others: registered dietitian nutritionist Vicky Newman and clinical psychologist Julia Rucklidge. Both support their views with scientific evidence. Newman basically recommends a low-carb diet without ever explicitly calling it that. She also takes a fairly holistic approach with more knowledge that is common in alternative health, such as the importance of pastured and grassfed livestock.

Rucklidge is more conventional in her recommending a Mediterranean diet. From what I can tell, she is unaware of functional medicine, traditional foods, paleo, low-carb, keto, carnivore, etc. On the other hand, she gets extra credit points for talking about how good nutrition improves the psychological and behavioral outcomes among depressives, autistic children, ADHD adults, trauma patients, prisoners, etc.

For good measure, let me also recommend Dr. Eric Berg, a chiropractor. He has no particular specialty in psychology, psychiatry, or anything similar. But he is is one of the best presenters on useful knowledge for diet and health. His talks are always clear and concise and he occasionally focuses on neurocognitive health.

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Ketogenic Diets for Mental Health: A Guide to Resources
by Georgia Ede

Your Brain on Plants: Micronutrients and Mental Health
by Georgia Ede

Affects of Diet and Mental Health
by Georgia Ede

Schizophrenia, Depression, and the Little-Known “Mental Heatlh”/DietaryLink
interview with Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride

A Carnivore Diet for Physical and Mental Health
interview with L. Amber O’Hearn

The Embodied Spider

There is more to embodied cognition than that neurocogntion happens within and inseparably from the body. We are bodies. And our bodies are of the world, one might say they are the world, the only world we can comprehend (com- ‘together’ + prehendere ‘grasp’). That is simple enough. But what kind of embodied beings are we with what kind of embodied experience?

How we exist within our bodies… how we hold our physical form… how we position ourselves in relation to the world… how we inhabit our extended selves… All of this and more determines our way of being, what we perceive, think, and do, what we can imagine. It is through our bodies that we manage our lived reality. And it is through our bodies that we are managed by the forces and patterns of society and environment, the affordances of structured existence forming our habitus and worldview. Maybe epigenetically carried across generations and centuries.

We are spiders in webs of our own making but webs we don’t so much see as through which we perceive, as if strands connecting us to the world to such an extent that it is unclear who is the puppet and who the puppetmaster. Social constructivism points toward a greater truth of webbed realism, of what we sense and know in our entanglement. As we are embodied, so we are embedded. Our identities extend into the world, which means the other extends back into us. One part shifts and the rest follows.

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The World Shifts When a Black Widow Squats
by Ed Yong

“The widow’s abilities are part of a concept called “embodied cognition,” which argues that a creature’s ability to sense and think involves its entire body, not just its brain and sense organs. Octopus arms, for example, can grab and manipulate food without ever calling on the central brain. Female crickets can start turning toward the sound of a male using only the ears and neurons in their legs, well before their central nervous system even has a chance to process the noise. In the case of the black widow, the information provided by the sense organs in the legs depends on the position of the entire animal.

“Earlier, I described this as a postural squint. That’s close, but the analogy isn’t quite right, since squinting helps us focus on particular parts of space. Here, the spider is focusing on different parts of information space. It’s as if a human could focus on red colors by squatting, or single out high-pitched sounds by going into downward dog (or downward spider).

“The ability to sense vibrations that move through solid surfaces, as distinct from sounds that travel through air, is “an often overlooked aspect of animal communication,” says Beth Mortimer from the University of Oxford, who studies it in creatures from elephants to spiders. It’s likely, then, that the widow’s ability to control perception through posture “almost certainly [exists in] other spiders and web types, too, and other arthropods, including insects, that detect vibrations along surfaces through their legs.” Scientists just need to tune in.”