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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Research Suggests Antidepressants Are Basically Expensive Candy

Research is taking us to a place I have been longing for ... a place where it is finally and conclusively proven that anti-depressants are "basically expensive tic-tacs", as an article in Newsweek reports.

This is not to say that patients don't improve, and often do so substantially, "on SSRIs, tricyclics, and even MAO inhibitors, a class of antidepressants that dates from the 1950s. This improvement, demonstrated in scores of clinical trials, is the basis for the ubiquitous claim that antidepressants work. But when Kirsch (one of the authors  of a 1998 clinical trial which examined 38 manufacturer-sponsored studies involving just over 3,000 depressed patients) compared the improvement in patients taking the drugs with the improvement in those taking dummy pills—clinical trials typically compare an experimental drug with a placebo—he saw that the difference was minuscule. Patients on a placebo improved about 75 percent as much as those on drugs. Put another way, three quarters of the benefit from antidepressants seems to be a placebo effect."

"To be sure, the drugs have helped tens of millions of people, and Kirsch certainly does not advocate that patients suffering from depression stop taking the drugs. On the contrary. But they are not necessarily the best first choice. Psychotherapy, for instance, works for moderate, severe, and even very severe depression. And although for some patients, psychotherapy in combination with an initial course of prescription antidepressants works even better, the question is, how do the drugs work? Kirsch's study and, now, others conclude that the lion's share of the drugs' effect comes from the fact that patients expect to be helped by them, and not from any direct chemical action on the brain, especially for anything short of very severe depression."

"But if experts know that antidepressants are hardly better than placebos, few patients or doctors do. Some doctors have changed their prescribing habits, says Kirsch, but more "reacted with anger and incredulity."

Irving Kirsch, Ph.D. is the author of The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the Anti-depressant Myth.

"The boy who said the emperor had no clothes didn't endear himself to his fellow subjects, and Kirsch has fared little better. A nascent collaboration with a scientist at a medical school ended in 2002 when the scientist was warned not to submit a grant proposal with Kirsch if he ever wanted to be funded again. Four years later, another scientist wrote a paper questioning the effectiveness of antidepressants, citing Kirsch's work. It was published in a prestigious journal. That ordinarily brings accolades. Instead, his department chair dressed him down and warned him not to become too involved with Kirsch."

"But the question of whether antidepressants—which in 2008 had sales of $9.6 billion in the U.S., reported the consulting firm IMS Health—have any effect other than through patients' belief in them was too important to scare researchers off. Proponents of the drugs have found themselves making weaker and weaker claims. Their last stand is that antidepressants are more effective than a placebo in patients suffering the most severe depression."

A JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) study from early January 2010 concluded that "Most people don't need an active drug. For a lot of folks, you're going to do as well on a sugar pill or on conversations with your physicians as you will on medication. It doesn't matter what you do; it's just the fact that you're doing something."

Note: "Kirsch warns—in boldface type in his book, which is in stores this week—that patients on antidepressants not suddenly stop taking them. That can cause serious withdrawal symptoms, including twitches, tremors, blurred vision, and nausea—as well as depression and anxiety."

Read entire article here.

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