The Drugs That Changed Our Minds
Lauren Slater Simon & Schuster £18.99
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 450million people worldwide suffer from a mental illness, but are the drugs that doctors prescribe having any positive effect?
In the opinion of Lauren Slater, psychiatric diagnosis is a tricky, unreliable business. Many of the drugs offer no relief to 30 per cent of users; many patients would get the same benefits from a placebo; most cause distressing side effects such as diabetes, kidney trouble, obesity or personality suppression; and there has been very little academic research into the long-term effects of all these drugs. For decades, it seems, doctors have been dosing their patients with ever-increasing quantities of chemicals without really knowing how, why or even if they are effective.
In this thoughtprovoking, insightful and engrossing book, Slater takes us on a grand tour of the world of psychotropic prescription drugs, from the discovery of the Fifties wonder drug chlorapromazine through to the golden age of psychopharmacology that gave us Valium and Prozac. She then examines the potential benefits of magic mushrooms, LSD, MDMA and memory drugs, and the cutting-edge interventions of neural implants.
Slater, both a psychologist and a patient herself, and a lifelong user of many of these substances, is an excellent and engaging guide, offering a uniquely informed personal perspective. She writes persuasively and passionately, with authority and occasional scepticism, and despite some of the science and jargon, this is very accessible for the lay reader.
While we may have progressed from the bad old days of lobotomies, cold showers and routine electric-shock ‘therapy’ – torture by any other description – psychopharmacology still appears to operate largely in the dark.