A short history of antipsychotics

Dr. Abram Hoffer has much to say on what happened to mental illness after the introduction of atypical antipsychotics in the 1970s. Atypical antipsychotics are the second-generation antipsychotics, which have fewer side effects than the first-generation “typical” antipsychotics introduced in the 1950s. The second-generation antipsychotics are tranquilizers that still produce side effects. With the second-generation drugs, people were fit enough to leave the hospital but not fit enough to hold down jobs. Psychiatric hospitals emptied, but the streets filled up with people unable to manage their medications or who preferred a life unmedicated to a life and and spirit controlled by medication.

Dr. Hoffer writes: “I am pleased with my medical colleagues who are quickly moving into this modern paradigm (megavitamin therapy), and am very frustrated by the massive inertia of my psychiatric colleagues who are still waiting for the Holy Grail, that new tranquilizer which appears every year, which will do for schizophrenia what insulin does for diabetes. The number of homeless chronic schizophrenics in the streets of all large American and Canadian cities is evidence of their inability to do more for them than we could do in 1950 before we had any tranquilizers. But at least then we had hospitals which provided shelter and food and some care. Today the downtown slums have become the surrogate mental hospital beds for the chronic patients whose treatment has been wholly tranquilizers.”

In the United States, a 1951 amendment to the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act meant that all the new drugs produced after World War II, which included second-generation antipsychotics, as well as antidepressants and antibiotics, could only be issued by prescription.When medication became the new Holy Grail, megavitamin therapy was tossed out. It lived on in communities of adherents here and there, but their voices were drowned over the next few decades as the number of antipsychotics on the market proliferated.

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