Mom, what’s a Neuroleptic?

Two insightful descriptions of Neuroleptics (also known as ‘Major Tranquilizers’, or Antipsychotics) from two anti-psychiatry greats…..

On the Origin of Neuroleptics
Robert Whitaker has written about the origin of the neuroleptic drugs, which are derived from a group of drugs known as phenothiazines, “In the 1930s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture employed phenothiazine compounds for use as an insecticide and to kill swine parasites. Then, in the 1940s, phenothiazines were found to sharply limit locomotor activity in mammals, but without putting them to sleep. Rats that had learned to climb ropes in order to avoid painful electric shocks could no longer perform this escape task when administered phenothiazines.” (“Mad in America” 142) This profound disinterest and disconnect in the brain led researchers to use neuroleptics in France for surgical patients to strengthen the effects of anesthesia. The term “neuroleptic” means to take hold of, or clamp down on, the nervous system. The initial researchers realized that the drugs affected the brain in a way similar to lobotomy by causing disinterest in one’s surroundings and general passivity (Whitaker, “Anatomy of an Epidemic” 49-50; Breggin, “Brain Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry” 35-36). They also recognized that the compounds affected the brain in a way identical to a disease called encephalitis lethargica, the symptoms of which are very similar to Parkinson’s disease (Breggin, “Toxic Psychiatry” 73-74; Whitaker, “Anatomy” 50). Researchers referred to the state induced by neuroleptics as a “vegetative syndrome” (Whitaker, “Mad” 144). The drugs were then tried on the mentally ill, and their effects were welcomed on psychiatric wards where agitated and disruptive patients would be reduced to passive, disinterested people who were much more easily controlled.
Peter Breggin compares the effects of neuroleptics, and their inhibiting of the dopamine pathways to the frontal lobes, to prefrontal lobotomy. Since the same dopaminergic nerve pathways that are cut in lobotomy are blocked by the neuroleptics, the effects are identical. People lose interest in their surroundings, other people, and in their symptoms as well (“Toxic” 53-60). He cites several experts who state that the effects of neuroleptics and of lobotomy are identical. The doctors who first used Thorazine on people in France describe the patients as flat, withdrawn, unmotivated, and disinterested in their surroundings (“Toxic” 54).


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