hen I see doctors praising antidepressants online, it plucks my last and final nerve. I ask myself, why, in 2023, are doctors still praising a treatment protocol from the 1970s that has turned 1 in 4 American women into wards of the healthcare state?
Now, the doctors will tell you that a large percentage of pill takers say they've seen improvement. But so what? A depressed person is the worst possible judge of their own condition.
Take me, for instance. I would have told you that SSRIs were helping when they first started me on Prozac back in the late 1970s. But then I was slipped a psychedelic at a party in my early 20s and my eyes were open. I saw life and its possibilities so clearly during that experience that I began to cry. Why? Because I was suddenly conscious of all the time I had been wasting by moping around and procrastinating on my many short-, medium- and long-term goals in life. The psychedelic had woken me up to a vibrant new reality of which I had been hitherto unaware. I now saw that psychiatry was a lie: it was not helping me live large, it was merely helping me to become a predictable consumer. My psychiatrist's motto seemed to be: "Don't worry, be satisfied."
Antidepressants are not so much bad science as they are bad philosophy. Take, for instance, the idea that these medications scientifically cure depression. You cannot cure depression without first defining what depression is, and that is a definition that no two philosophers will ever entirely agree on. Is depression merely a difficulty in getting up in the morning, or is it the inability to live large? The psychiatrist will say that it's the former. They do not share the vision of Jack Kerouac that we should all burn brightly, "like fabulous yellow roman candles." Neither do they share the view of Avicenna that a life of width is preferable to a life of length. If they had gotten their hands on Robin Williams, he would have never been a great comedian. They want to turn their patient into a predictable citizen, not a truly self-fulfilled individual, living a joyously unpredictable life.
But I am getting carried away here. I am really speaking about psychiatry as a field and not about particular psychiatrists. Many psychiatrists are well-meaning human beings whose strong suit is empathy - but they are hobbled by the inability to prescribe the necessary medicines. I would love to see the best psychiatrists enabled to employ ANY drug or drugs in order to enlighten the moribund patient as to the possibilities in life and thus help them strive for self-actualization rather than for a sleepy satisfaction with a humdrum status quo. Moreover, this type of shamanic protocol would get rid of the very concept of "patient," since it would attract anyone interested in being all they can be in life, and not merely those whom the psychiatrists of yore might have considered to be pathologically depressed.
In short, antidepressants are tranquilizers - and I say that based on 40+ years' of personal experience with their daily use. And like most tranquilizers, they create chemical dependency. They have a long list of side effects and downsides that are never going to be fully fleshed out and publicized in a time when money and politics control science - as they always do in a capitalist society that is engaged in an anti-scientific war on certain politically unpopular medicines. Remember, Big Pharma pays for research trials, not the FDA.
And a tranquilizer is not a treatment for depression. It could be easily replaced by a sharp blow to the head with a hammer. When the patient "comes to," they would not experience self-actualization but if the blow were hard enough, they would no longer be complaining about their life. They might even naively claim that they felt "happy." Psychiatry has a long history of making patients "happy" in this way, with its previous miracle cures, such as enema therapy, ice baths, and lithium. Antonio Moniz won the Nobel Prize for lobotomy, not because it helped the depressed achieve their goals in life, but because it rendered them less obstreperous and easier to care for. In short, it made nurses happy, not patients.
We should also remember that SSRIs and SNRIs are huge business. Before anyone praises them, they should tell us what their financial interests might be in so doing. Robert Whitaker tells us how many of the talking heads that have promoted this therapy on prime-time talk shows have been under the pay of Big Pharma, either directly or indirectly. And any psychiatrist's views on the topic have to be considered in light of the fact that he or she makes a living based on the foot traffic that the pill mill creates for them.
As far as I know, I am the only philosopher who has made the link between the Drug War and the psychiatric pill mill, and yet the pill mill is a product of that very Drug War. What depressed person would knowingly choose a treatment for which chemical dependency is a feature rather than a bug? What depressed person would knowingly choose a treatment that tranquilizes rather than inspiring them? No one would do so if all drugs were legal again. Americans take SSRIs today not by choice, but simply because the government has outlawed almost all the competition.
Today's attitude about drugs is bizarre: it tells us that the worst possible fate is to become dependent on a "drug," and yet at the same time, we are told that we have a medical duty to take antidepressants every day of our life.
But if there is nothing wrong with taking a drug every day of one's life, then there is nothing wrong with taking opium every day of one's life or chewing the coca leaf daily. And yet most of the doctors who promote the use of SSRIs will tell you that engaging in these activities is habit forming and therefore wrong - and this from doctors whose psychiatric pill mill has created the greatest mass chemical dependency of all time. In fact, if you insist on something other than the miniscule pharmacopoeia of modern psychiatry, doctors will class you as an "addictive personality" and insist with Gabriel Mate that you have some "inner pain" that needs to be addressed. (That's a great way to suppress complaints about the Drug War: pathologize and tranquilize those who object to the anti-patient status quo.)
The idea that I do not have a right to coca and the poppy is not based on science: it's based on a mix of politics, money and puritanism: the politics of the Drug War, which suppresses black voting and allows the US to lord it over South American countries; the money which allows the richest 3% of Americans to control Congress and the Senate; and the puritanism which tells us that it's better to hide one's candle than to burn too brightly and thus potentially upset one's neighbors.
The antidepressant protocol is like shock therapy or euthanasia. The only reason they make sense to us is because we ignore the existence of the Drug War. We say, for instance, that shock therapy is used only as a last resort, but that is just a conscience sop: shock therapy is used because of the Drug War, which outlaws all the drugs that might have cheered the patients up without potentially injuring their brains. If we do not acknowledge the role of the Drug War here, we are giving the Drug War a huge MULLIGAN for this great evil that it is causing. Likewise, euthanasia is despicable in the age of a Drug War: it lets us use drugs to kill a gloomy or distraught person, but once again, it does not let us use drugs to cheer them up. Surely even Mary Baker Eddy herself would not have been so dogmatically heartless.
The Drug War is based on so many lies, preconceptions and misconceptions that it cannot survive forever. Someday we philosophers are going to untangle the seemingly endless knots and prove to the world that the man behind the "Drug War curtain" is a racist bully, shouting "Drugs, drugs, drugs!" not in an effort to educate us, but rather in order to terrify us into pursuing anti-scientific policies that turn once law-abiding citizens into criminals. And when the Drug War ends - when we human beings finally regain the right to control our own moods and minds - SSRIs will disappear, not because the government will outlaw them but because no one in their right mind will opt for becoming a lifetime ward of the healthcare state for the purposes of receiving expensive tranquilizers from an expensive psychiatrist.
Until that time, I hope this essay has encouraged a few fence-straddling doctors out there to think twice before advocating pills whose use has turned America into the setting for a real-life Stepford Wives.
Here's where I add the usual disclaimer that you should see your doctor before trying to get off these drugs -- if only to find out if it's even possible. If you don't believe me, you can search "Effexor" and "withdrawal symptoms" online and see some of the problems that you could encounter. Which brings us to one final point about SSRIs: you simply are not going to hear the full story about them in a capitalist society. For I assure you, if naturally occurring drugs had a fraction of the downsides possessed by antidepressants, the Drug Warrior would have a field day pillorying those drugs.
Instead, we find today's doctors writing shameless apologetics for antidepressants. Just yesterday I saw a doctor responding to someone who pointed out the sexual dysfunction allegedly caused by antidepressants. And what did the doctor say? He said that penicillin will cause a few people to go into shock but that penicillin is still a good treatment.
What hypocrisy in the age of the Drug War! Of course penicillin is a good treatment. But if MDMA caused so much as one single solitary person to go into shock - just one, mind! -- prohibitionists would have a field day, saying that the drug must be illegal for everyone, everywhere, in any dose, ever - never mind the fact that the outlawing of such drugs will make brain-damaging shock therapy a necessity for depressed folk like myself. The idea that patients should risk their sexuality on SSRIs makes no sense - except with the unstated assumption that the Drug War is right in outlawing all the competition for such medicines - an assumption which makes zero scientific sense whatsoever.
SSRIs may "work" for those with modest goals in life -- though I'm sure that even these folk would demand more from their therapist had they experienced the kind of pharmacologically induced epiphany that I had in my youth. Probably the most we can say about SSRIs is that they may keep a tiny minority of patients from committing suicide, but again, so could a sharp blow to the head with a hammer. But speaking of suicide, does anyone really think that 1 in 4 American women would have "offed" themselves had they not been started on antidepressants? If this is so - that is, if 1 in 4 American women are really truly deeply depressed - then there is something wrong with American society, not American women - and we should not be tranquilizing women in order to ignore the evidence of that social dystopia - least of all in a world in which we have outlawed all the drugs that could open their minds rather than putting them to sleep.
Author's Follow-up: April 5, 2023
In "Anatomy of an Epidemic," Richard Whitaker explains how these drugs cause the very chemical imbalances that they purport to fix. This is no doubt why they are so hard to quit: they create a new baseline brain chemistry. So while opium withdrawal can be performed in one week, antidepressant withdrawal takes months or more. In fact, government studies have shown that some SNRIs, like Effexor, have a 95% recidivism rate for long-term users. That is, 95% of those who attempt to quit Effexor are back on it within two years of having commenced their withdrawal process.
Of course, these numbers would improve drastically if we re-legalized mood medicine. But Drug Warriors want to see "drug users" doing poorly so that they can keep their moral narrative about drugs operating as America's national religion.
Author's Follow-up: April 15, 2023
One of the justifications for "pill therapy" is that it keeps us from blaming ourselves or our parents for behavioral problems. But this is no way to justify a therapy. What if the parents really are the problem? Take the case of a young child who misbehaves all the time. In many cases, this may be caused or aggravated by a parent who is constantly correcting the child for no good reason -- or else ignoring the child. In fact, there are endless ways in which parents might unwittingly be driving their children crazy, literally speaking. If we ignore the family and social context and look for pills to solve this problem, then we are going to "dope up" the kid when by rights we should be teaching the parent how to raise children.
This should not be seen as blaming the parents -- but rather simply recognizing the obvious truth that parenting can be tough business -- and if one has hang-ups of their own, then try as they might, they're likely to pass those hang-ups on to their children by giving them unintentional examples of "how not to behave." The answer to this is to teach the parent, not to tranquilize the kids so that they can sleep through all the madness to which they are being subjected. There is no stigma to taking dog obedience classes in which owners are taught how to behave: why should we deem it insulting to teach our parents how to raise children -- without unwittingly turning them into maniacs. If you're like me, you've seen a kid in public who was being subjected to nonsensical demands by a parent or totally unwarranted reprimands. You think to yourself, "God help us when that kid grows up."
Parents should check their egos at the door and attend classes in parenting as a kind of duty -- unless they're the lucky minority for whom their kids behavior is not problematic.
Likewise, the "pill" approach completely rules out the possibility that society could be the problem. If 1 in 4 American women think that they need antidepressants in order to function in modern America's capitalist society, then there is something wrong with modern America's capitalist society, not with women. The "pill mill" approach lets us completely ignore this gorilla in the room and carry on as if nothing's wrong with America. And if we don't recognize a problem, we are never going to solve it -- least of all when we tranquilize those who should be rising up to overthrow that system or at least to modify it until such time as it becomes healthy again for a large percentage of the population.
You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at abolishthedea.com. Brian is the founder of The Drug War Gift Shop, where artists can feature and sell their protest artwork online. He has also written for Sociodelic and is the author of The Drug War Comic Book, which contains 150 political cartoons illustrating some of the seemingly endless problems with the war on drugs -- many of which only Brian seems to have noticed, by the way, judging by the recycled pieties that pass for analysis these days when it comes to "drugs." That's not surprising, considering the fact that the category of "drugs" is a political category, not a medical or scientific one.
A "drug," as the world defines the term today, is "a substance that has no good uses for anyone, ever, at any time, under any circumstances" -- and, of course, there are no substances of that kind: even cyanide and the deadly botox toxin have positive uses: a war on drugs is therefore unscientific at heart, to the point that it truly qualifies as a superstition, one in which we turn inanimate substances into boogie-men and scapegoats for all our social problems.
The Drug War is, in fact, the philosophical problem par excellence of our time, premised as it is on a raft of faulty assumptions (notwithstanding the fact that most philosophers today pretend as if the drug war does not exist). It is a war against the poor, against minorities, against religion, against science, against the elderly, against the depressed, against those in pain, against children in hospice care, and against philosophy itself. It outlaws substances that have inspired entire religions, Nazifies the English language and militarizes police forces nationwide.
It bans the substances that inspired William James' ideas about human consciousness and the nature of ultimate reality. In short, it causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, meanwhile violating the Natural Law upon which Thomas Jefferson founded America. (Surely, Jefferson was rolling over in his grave when Ronald Reagan's DEA stomped onto Monticello in 1987 and confiscated the founding father's poppy plants.)
If you believe in freedom and democracy, in America and around the world, please stay tuned for more philosophically oriented broadsides against the outrageous war on godsend medicines, AKA the war on drugs.
PS The drug war has not failed: to the contrary, it has succeeded, insofar as its ultimate goal was to militarize police forces around the world and help authorities to ruthlessly eliminate those who stand in the way of global capitalism. For more, see Drug War Capitalism by Dawn Paley. Oh, and did I mention that most Drug Warriors these days would never get elected were it not for the Drug War itself, which threw hundreds of thousands of their political opposition in jail? Trump was right for the wrong reasons: elections are being stolen in America, but the number-one example of that fact is his own narrow victory in 2016, which could never have happened without the existence of laws that were specifically written to keep Blacks and minorities from voting. The Drug War, in short, is a cancer on the body politic.
Rather than apologetically decriminalizing selected plants, we should be demanding the immediate restoration of Natural Law, according to which "The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being." (John Locke)
Andrew, Christopher "The Secret World: A History of Intelligence" 2019 Yale University Press
Aurelius, Marcus "Meditations" 2021 East India Publishing Company