The Drugs That Changed Our Minds

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - BOOKS -

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.

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