Antipsychotics: Effects and Experience

Many people now know how antidepressants are overprescribed. Studies have shown that most taking them receive no benefit at all. Besides that, there are many negative side effects, including suicidality. But what few are aware of is how widely prescribed also are antipsychotics. They aren’t only used for severe cases such as schizophrenia. Often, they are given for treatment of conditions that have nothing to do with psychosis. Depression and personality disorders are other examples. Worse still, it is regularly given to children in foster care to make them more manageable.

That was the case with me, in treating my depression. Along with the antidepressant Paxil, I was put on the antipsychotic Risperdal. I don’t recall being given an explanation at the time and I wasn’t in the mindset back then to interrogate the doctors. Antipsychotics are powerful tranquilizers that shut down the mind and increase sleep. Basically, it’s an attempt to solve the problem by making the individual utterly useless to the world, entirely disconnected, calmed into mindlessness and numbness. That is a rather extreme strategy. Rather than seeking healing, it treats the person suffering as the problem to be solved.

For those on them, they can find themselves sleeping all the time, have a hard time concentrating, and many of them unable to work. It can make them inert and immobile, often gaining weight in the process. But if you try to get off of them, there can be serious withdrawl symptoms. The problems is that prescribers rarely tell patients about the side effects or the long term consequences to antipsychotic use, as seen with what some experience as permanent impairment of mental ability. This is partly because drug companies have suppressed the information on the negatives and promoted them as a miracle drug.

Be highly cautious with any psychiatric medications, including antidepressants but especially antipsychotics. These are potent chemicals only to be used in the most desperate of cases, not to be used so cavalierly as they are now. As with diet, always question a healthcare professional recommending any kind of psychiatric medications for you or a loved one. And most important, research these drugs in immense detail before taking them. Know what you’re dealing with and learn of the experiences of others.

Here is an interesting anecdote. Ketogenic diets have been used to medically treat diverse neurocognitive disorders, originally epileptic seizures, but they are also used to treat weight loss. There was an older lady, maybe in her 70s. She had been diagnosed with schizophrenia since she was a teenager. The long-term use of antipsychotics had caused her to become overweight.

She went to Dr. Eric Westman who trained under Dr. Robert Atkins. She was put on the keto diet and did lose weight but she was surprised to find here schizophrenic symptoms also reduce, to such an extent she was able to stop taking the antipsychotics. So, how many doctors recommend a ketogenic diet before prescribing dangerous drugs? The answer is next to zero. There simply is no incentive for doctors to do so within our present medical system and many incentives to continue with the overprescription of drugs.

No doctor ever suggested to me that I try the keto diet or anything similar, despite the fact that none of the prescribed drugs helped. Yet I too had the odd experience of going on the keto diet to lose weight only to find that I had also lost decades of depression in the process. The depressive funks, irritability and brooding simply disappeared. That is great news for the patient but a bad business model. Drug companies can’t make any profit from diets. And doctors that step out of line with non-standard practices open themselves up to liability and punishment by medical boards, sometimes having their license removed.

So, psychiatric medications continue to be handed out like candy. The young generation right now is on more prescribed drugs than ever before. They are guinea pigs for the drug companies. Who is going to be held accountable when this mass experiment on the public inevitably goes horribly wrong when we discover the long-term consequences on the developing brains and bodies of children and young adults?

* * *

Largest Survey of Antipsychotic Experiences Reveals Negative Results
By Ayurdhi Dhar, PhD

While studies have attributed cognitive decline and stunted recovery to antipsychotic use, less attention has been paid to patients’ first-person experiences on these drugs. In one case where a psychiatrist tried the drugs and documented his experience, he wrote:

“I can’t believe I have patients walking around on 800mg of this stuff. There’s no way in good conscience I could dose this BID (sic) unless a patient consented to 20 hours of sleep a day. I’m sure there’s a niche market for this med though. There has to be a patient population that doesn’t want to feel emotions, work, have sex, take care of their homes, read, drive, go do things, and want to drop their IQ by 100 points.”

Other adverse effects of antipsychotics include poor heart health, brain atrophy, and increased mortality. Only recently have researchers started exploring patient experiences on antipsychotic medication. There is some evidence to suggest that some service users believe that they undermine recovery. However, these first-person reports do not play a significant part in how these drugs are evaluated. […]

Read and Sacia found that only 14.3% reported that their experience on antipsychotics was purely positive, 27.9% of the participants had mixed experiences, and the majority of participants (57.7%) only reported negative results.

Around 22% of participants reported drug effects as more positive than negative on the Overall Antipsychotic Rating scale, with nearly 6% calling their experience “extremely positive.” Most participants had difficulty articulating what was positive about their experience, but around 14 people noted a reduction in symptoms, and 14 others noted it helped them sleep.

Of those who stated they had adverse effects, 65% reported withdrawal symptoms, and 58% reported suicidality. In total, 316 participants complained about adverse effects from the drugs. These included weight gain, akathisia, emotional numbing, cognitive difficulties, and relationship problems. […]

Similar results were reported in a recent review, which found that while some patients reported a reduction in symptoms on antipsychotics, others stated that they caused sedation, emotional blunting, loss of autonomy, and a sense of resignation. Participants in the current survey also complained of the lingering adverse effects of antipsychotics, long after they had discontinued their use.

Importantly, these negative themes also included negative interactions with prescribers of the medication. Participants reported a lack of information about side-effects and withdrawal effects, lack of support from prescribers, and lack of knowledge around alternatives; some noted that they were misdiagnosed, and the antipsychotics made matters worse.

One participant said: “I was not warned about the permanent/semi-permanent effects of antipsychotics which I got.” Another noted: “Most doctors do not have a clue. They turn their backs on suffering patients, denying the existence of withdrawal damage.”

This is an important finding as previous research has shown that positive relationships with one’s mental health provider are considered essential to recovery by many patients experiencing first-episode psychosis.

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.

* * *

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.