Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Witches' Brew


“Not until almost a century later did scientists establish that hyoscine and mandragora from the mandrake root, which had been used for millennia for the management of “nerves,” are anticholinergics, drugs that block the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. But the dividing line between therapy and wider effects on the social order is a fine one. Henbane, the plant from which hyoscine comes, had achieved perhaps its greatest fame as an ingredient in a witch's brew. It could supposedly cause a flight of the soul. It is now clear that in low doses anticholinergics can be euphoriants, which in higher doses they can cause out-of-body experiences and hallucinations and at very high doses delirium.

Hyoscine was initially used alone or in combination with camphor and lupulline in hospitals. Then later it was used in hospitals, along with morphine and atropine, in a potent sedative called Hysoscine Co. A. In primary care and office practice in the first half of the twentieth century, it was used in combination with bromides and barbiturates. The ready availability of all these agents also made them widely used by people who were medicating themselves.

A series of twentieth century studies have proven that anticholinergic agents have antinervousness and antidepressant properties. These studies make it reasonably certain that when nineteenth century clinicians claimed they saw beneficial effects from hyoscine, they were almost surely correct. And quite apart from clinical trial evidence, hyoscine was pleasant, sometimes bordering on the euphoriant, and at the same time calming – characteristics that clearly would help in the mamagement of nervous problems.

However, no modern pharmaceutical company has developed anticholinergics like hyoscine for the treatment of nervous problems. As popular awareness of the traditional origins of these drugs vanshed, extraordinarily it became possible to call the anticholinergic effects side effects. This process culminated with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) like Prozac being sold on the basis that they were free of anticholinergic “side effects.” The new situation is one in which some critics of pharmacotherapy have argued that antidepressants may in fact work only by virtue of their side effects.”
- David Healy, The Creation of Psychopharmacology. P.50-51. 2008.

2 comments:

Alice D'Aeon said...

I'm assuming the 420th page deals with the medicinal uses of bath salts, ha.

Jack Faust said...

Lol. Bath salts didn't really hit mainstream consciousness until 2009/2010, no? I doubt he'll even discuss them. But it would amuse me.