Synapse. Tweaked version of Image:SynapseIllus...

Oh man, nothing makes me so angry as when people peddle misinformation as being fact, especially when it comes to psychiatric medications. While I acknowledge that not all people are helped by them and that some have bad reactions to them, the anti-medication movement is often riddled with ridiculous statements such as “Antidepressants damage the brain and cause people to become sociopaths.”  My conscience is very much intact, thank you very much. And that goes for others I know who take antidepressants as well.

I am focusing in this post on antidepressant medications, although the same principles apply to many other psychiatric medications as well. But I hear antidepressants being brought up more often than others, and I have studied them more than others as well.  I want to say upfront that I am not a medical professional. I am a mental health consumer who believes knowledge is power, so I have done my own research on this.

There are more subtle charges about antidepressants than what I posted above, that are more believable to people who don’t know the facts.

“Antidepressants work no better than a placebo”

Partly true. The end should say “For mild to moderate depression.”  But for major clinical depression and bipolar depression they do work. The logical conclusion is that many if not most of mild to moderate cases of depression are situational, rather than biological. Antidepressants are not designed to treat non-biological depression.  Unfortunately the overprescribing of antidepressants to those who don’t need them has resulted in a backlash from the public and the media is not always reporting the entire story.

Another charge is this:

“It says right in the antidepressant drug information that they don’t know how it works so the hypothesis that it corrects a chemical imbalance must be wrong.”

Again, partly true. It does say that it is “thought to work” by correcting a chemical imbalance in the brain. But there are many non-psychiatric medications that have the same type of caveat. Just because they don’t always know exactly how a medication works does not mean that it is a useless medication. It is results that matter. Some research has shown that perhaps it causes an increase in neurons which might account for why it may take up to a few weeks to become effective. It may also be a case of multiple effects that are in play as well. Perhaps the medication affects both the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain AND increases neurons. It has to be pointed out that until recently it was thought that the brain could not regenerate and produce new cells. That has been proven wrong with the new science of neuroplasticity or neurogenesis.  My next post is going to go into how the hypothesis of the chemical imbalance came about. It was not an unreasonable idea in light of the knowledge of the brain they had at the time, in the 1950’s. But I want to point out that the “chemical imbalance” hypothesis, while it is being challenged, has not been disproven either. It is up in the air at the moment.

One thing that many people don’t understand is that science progresses in stages and it is self-correcting as well. No scientist will ever claim that they understand everything perfectly. When  I debate people on scientific research, I point out this as an example of how science works. While Isaac Newton was a brilliant man, he never actually understood what gravity is. He was the one who discovered the principle or the theory of gravity and described its mathematical qualities but he didn’t know what it was or the cause of it. Others built upon his discovery so that we have a more complete view now.  But even now there are mysteries because Newtonian physics and Quantum physics should not be able to exist side by side as they contradict each other. Yet they do, not because either one of them is wrong, but because our understanding is incomplete.

And gravity works, whether you understand it or not. The same principle applies with medications.

This is just something to keep in mind when people claim that “such and such research” has been “disproven”, many times based on only one study. Studies have to be replicated in order to have any validity at all. And the human brain is a rather difficult organ to do research on. Lab animals can be subjected to medications and also be controlled for variables. Then they are killed and their brains dissected. You can’t do that with people. So studies have to be based on effectiveness, not on a complete understanding of the pathology of the mentally ill brain.

But the one that really “Grinds my gears” is when people compare psychiatric medications to addictive illegal drugs.

“Antidepressants change the levels of neurotransmitters and alter receptors. Cocaine also changes the levels of both dopamine and serotonin, as well as noradrenaline, and alters receptors.”

This is one of the most insidious charges around. The fact is that many medications affect the levels of neurotransmitters and possibly receptors as well.  That does not automatically mean that they are bad for you or are addictive. Many migraine medications, and drugs for Parkinson’s disease for example. In fact any medication that can cross the blood-brain barrier is likely to affect the brain in some manner, such as with older antihistamine medications that cause drowsiness and are still a popular ingredient in over-the-counter sleep medications.

The difference between a horrendously addictive and destructive drug  and an antidepressant is HOW it works in the brain. Cocaine does raise the “feel-good” chemicals in the brain, temporarily, by causing them all to be released at once. That is what causes people to feel high. When you come down though, those chemicals are depleted and then you become depressed and your body craves another high.

On the other hand, antidepressant medication does not cause a high and is thought to work by conserving the levels of neurotransmitters by inhibiting the re-uptake into the cells. It essentially is recycling the chemicals that would otherwise be broken down by the body, meaning more of it is available for use in the brain.

Those are two completely different processes and in fact antidepressants do exactly the opposite of what cocaine does! Cocaine depletes, antidepressants conserve!

If anyone challenges you on taking “happy pills” ask them what the street value for these things are. The answer is zero.

The only psychiatric medications that you need to watch out for are tranquilizers and sleeping pills. Some people do end up abusing them. You and your doctor need to watch out for signs of tolerance, needing more to have the same effect. If you are uncomfortable taking these medications, ask your doctor for non-addictive medications or other ways to manage your symptoms. And please do not get the term ‘major tranquilizers” confused with the term “tranquilizers” as the former is an old-fashioned term for antipsychotics, which are not addictive.

The answer to all this insanity is to educate yourself and others (if they are open to that). Learn what your medications are and how they work. All the information I have supplied here is readily available online and you can also ask your doctor. Read the drug information from the pharmacy too and ask the pharmacist questions as well. Knowledge is power!  😉