I was looking at old back ups on my computer and came across this post. It was written by me in 2009, but I’m not sure if I ever posted it to my blog at the time. So here it is again, just in case I have (or have not) posted it. I’ve added links to sources and other information to make it easier to review.

Antidepressants – Stuff You Probably Should Know

There are no photos in this post, but what I have to say is in my opinion rather important. I’m also ‘prewriting’ this post without a ‘net connection, so any links I write may need to be manually placed into your browser, depending on whether my blog site automatically parses links….now shut up Gryphonn and get onto the subject.

For those of you who know me, you’ll be aware that I suffer from depression – or at least that’s what I think it is. My GP(s) at various times have said the same. However, I am pretty good at hiding my mental state. I’ve been doing it for many years. I may just have ‘issues’ that I haven’t dealt with, but I’ll call it Depression for the sake of this post.

Those of you who know me even better will be aware that I use cannabis as a medicine to treat the symptoms of my depression, and as a pain killer. Please don’t bombard me with anti-pot rhetoric. I’ve heard it all and read even more. I’ve also read and studied the research into cannabis that deals with both sides of the argument, pro and con. I’ll delve into the subject more on another post, or I’ll turn this post into another epic. In the meantime, if you are really interested in learning more about the ‘dreaded weed’, have a look here: http://itsmedicinejim.blogspot.com  In amongst the rambling and personal opinions you’ll find links to some very interesting research into THC and what potential benefits it has for people who suffer from various medical problems. For example, research that can currently be legally undertaken into cannabis suggests that in certain doses, THC can alleviate the symptoms of depression. However, too high a dose can exacerbate symptoms. Obviously, laws need to be modified to allow further research into this medicine that has been part of the human pharmacopeia for at least 5000 years.

OK, onto the subject of chemical based anti-depressants, SSRI’s and such. Firstly, this why I am posting this long and drawn out collection of words.

Last year I was seeing a GP (I’d been referred by a psychologist) who prescribed an anti-depressant – I believe it was Zoloft at first. After two weeks of this drug I became moody…cranky all the time. I am generally not a cranky person. If I have to stop my chosen medication (cannabis), I can become moody. Not violent. Not aggro, but somewhat short tempered. I also feel somewhat ‘out of sorts’ for want of a better description. However, it’s a psychological withdrawal in my opinion, and one with symptoms that I fully recognise, am aware of and can rationally control. If I feel like biting someones head off, I stop and think about why I feel the way do, rather than ‘go off’. You see, the problem with using an illegal ‘drug’ as a medicine is that supply can be erratic if you have to move to a different town etc.

I’m digressing…

Anyway, I informed my then GP of these symptoms (the antidepressant symptoms, not the pot), so he prescribed another anti-depressant, Luvox if I recall correctly. I duly began taking this one. After a week, I could barely get off the couch. I was a walking space cadet/zombie/brain dead. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t do anything due an extreme feeling of lethargy, but I couldn’t sleep either. I went back to the GP and explained this to him. He prescribed temazepam to help me sleep and DOUBLED the strength of the Luvox. Well, the temazepam didn’t help me sleep, but it made me somewhat high and I would eventually pass out into a sort of sleep. I gave up taking the temazepam and cut back on the Luvox…weaned myself off it according to the recommendations on the label and on various medical sites on the Internet. I went back to GP, explained what I had done and why. He was not happy, but prescribed another antidepressant, Cipramil. I got the prescription filled, but threw the pills in the bin. You should also be aware that during the time I was taking these various drugs, I was not taking my chosen medicine, cannabis (just in case you may be thinking that a combination of pot and antidepressants could only be a bad thing).

Recently I’ve been reading a lot more. I’ve been reading on subjects as diverse as how to plait a leather belt, to how one theory on ancient history is that we were visited by extraterrestrials and were genetically modified.

One of the books I am currently reading is called ‘Dying For A Cure‘, written by Rebekah Bedoe. Rebekah went from suffering mild post natal depression to being a psychotic, suicidal ‘nutcase’ in a very short space of time. The book explains how antidepressants, misdiagnoses and other factors contributed to the collapse of her mental health. If you’re interested, the ISBN is 978 1 74166 478 2. It is published by Random House.

Now, I have always thought that the way antidepressants work is a scientific proof. The literature will tell you that SSRIs act on serotonin to help balance these chemicals in your brain and therefore ‘cure’ depression. The truth is, it is a theory. You see, you can’t measure serotonin levels in a living human brain. You can’t test to see if antidepressants are working in the way pharmaceutical companies and some doctors will have you believe.

At the risk of breaching copyright, I’ll extract some of the scientific evidences that are in this book for you to digest:

Firstly, you cannot test the levels of any brain chemical in a living persons brain.

(E.S. Valenstein, Blaming the Brain: the truth about drugs and mental health,p.100.

P.Breggin and D. Cohen, Your Drug May be Your Problem, p.7)

Pfizer, the company that markets Zoloft, states that

In the past, people believed that depression was merely an emotional state that made people sad. These days, however, depression is recognised as a medical condition that affects about 20% of Australians at some time in their lives. Scientists have discovered a link between the chemical changes in your brain and this ‘state of mind’, which makes it a treatable condition’.

(16 May 2006, http://www.pfizer.com.au/Conditions/Depression.aspx)

Pfizer fails to tell you that this so called discovery was the result of research done in the ’60s. Modern research and testing has failed to replicate the results.

It is widely assumed that serotonin levels drop when we humans are ‘feeling low’. There is no evidence to prove this. There never has been any evidence to prove this.

(D.Healy, Let Them Eat Prozac:the unhealthy relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and depression, p.280, pp.11-12, p.xiv)

In the 1950’s, scientists were studying the effects of a drug called Reserpine on animals. They found that this drug ‘decreased’ levels of serotonin in the animals brains.They conducted the research because this drug was being used in people as an anti-psychotic and as a blood pressure reducer. However, there were people on this drug that had become depressed and some were committing suicide.  They therefore hypothesised that serotonin may be a cause of depression and set about developing a drug that could elevate serotonin levels in these depressed people.

SSRIs don’t provide more serotonin, they stop the brain from reuptaking excess serotonin by apparently blocking the brains ability to control oversupply.

Oh, and the term ‘selective’ in Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor does not mean it works on a selective part of the brain. It means that it has no action on one particular part of the brain. In other words, an SSRI may work on every part of the brain other than the noradrenalin system but still be termed ‘selective’.

(Healy, Let them Eat Prozac)

Antidepressants produce the maximum elevation of Serotonin and/or noradrenaline in the first one to two days of of treatment. However, the effects of the antidepressant (ie, elevation of mood) aren’t usually felt for several weeks. It is theorised that this is because the brain undergoes so many changes as a result of the serotonin/noredrenaline boost that the brain has to react to these changes and try to balance itself (so to speak). Here are just some of those ‘changes’ that have presented themselves in antidepressant users:

Suicidal thoughts and behaviour

Self harm

Mania and hypomania

Panic attacks

Impulsivity

Anxiety

Agitation

Insomnia

Irritability

Hostility

Worsening of depression

Personality changes

Akathisia – a feeling of severe, relentless inner agitation.

From the 1980s, when antidepressants were approved, until 2005, there were a total of 61 deaths associated with antidepressant drugs reported to the Australian Therapeutic Drugs Administration. Seven thousand adverse reactions were reported. However, because reporting of adverse reaction etc to the ATG is voluntary for doctors, this number could be ten times that reported.

(G.Jackson, Rethinking Psychiatric Drugs. p.81)

It is commonly touted that antidepressants are non-addictive. OK then. Why do patients have to wean off these drugs if they are non-addictive? Because if you don’t, you can suffer severe withdrawal effects. Even if you follow the recommended ‘weaning’ regime, you can still suffer adverse reactions. For example:

Dizziness

Irritability

Disturbed sleep

Racing thoughts

Panic attacks

Rapid heart beat

Chest pains

Headaches

Mood swings

I’m still reading Rebekahs book, but I’m also going to study more literature. It seems to me that my chosen medicine, based on my experience has far less side effects than SSRIs. Side effect is a little misleading. Drugs have ‘effects’. Some are the intended effects, while others are unintended. Therefore it doesn’t matter if the effect is good or bad, it is still an effect of the drug. For example, a drug may reduce anxiety, but also give you drug induced liver disease. Both are effects of the drug.

One final note. There has been a lot of talk about cannabis being a cause of psychosis and schizophrenia. Research conducted in New Zealand over the past thirty odd years has shown that a defective gene pair may be the real problem. A gene pair called catechol-O-methyltransferase – or COMT is associated with people/families who have a history of schizophrenia. As with most brain function etc, we can’t be tested for this defective gene…anyway, the current belief (theory) is that if this gene is defective and you smoke pot, cannabinoids can lock onto this gene, causing dopamine (a neurotransmitter) to flood the brain in an area that induces psychosis. Unlike our natural cannabinoids, yes, we all naturally produce cannabinoids in our brain, the THC in cannabis can cause the faulty gene to ‘keep the dopamine floodgates open, leading to a psychotic episode.COMT controls dopamine flow. If the gene pair are faulty, its ability to control dopamine flow is impaired. So, cannabis does not cause psychosis, but in the estimated two percent of the population that has this faulty gene pair, cannabis could trigger an uncontrolled dopamine flow, and therefore induce a psychotic episode. It is therefore probable, that other chemical based drugs could induce the same psychosis.

Let’s put this into perspective. Over a third of the Australian population has tried cannabis, yet only 1% of the population has schizophrenia. Further, the scientists found that the risk of developing psychosis or schizophrenia among pot smokers who have this defective gene is restricted to their adolescent years, when their brain is developing at an increased rate compared to those of us who are ‘older’. So, while there is a risk amongst a very small percentage of the population of developing psychosis as a result of smoking cannabis, it is restricted to adolescents. You old stoners out there have no reason to worry. If you are a teenager, I would advise that you not risk a psychotic episode by getting wasted every day. But then, I’d nowadays advise kids not to put any mind altering drug into their body, be it alcohol, cannabis, amphetamines or antidepressants. There are too many unknown factors that affect developing brains at that stage of life. However, I know from experience (I was a teenager too) that no one can tell a teenager what they can or cannot do. So, how about this. If you smoke cannabis and you have a ‘freak out’, then stop smoking. Don’t risk your mental health by continuing to partake in something that doesn’t agree with your mental state just because your mates say it’s harmless. No drug, chemical or natural, that affects your brain function should be taken lightly.

If you compare this with the 20% of patients who take prescribed anti-depressants and become suicidal, then the risk of developing psychosis from cannabis is miniscule.

But once again, considering that there is no way to test for chemical imbalances in the brain, and no way of testing for this so called faulty gene, it is all hypothesis much the same as the antidepressants and the way they supposedly work on our brains.

More information about Cannabis and Psychosis can be found at these links:

‘Marijuana Madness’ – Catalyst episode from 2008 (transcript) that prompted me to do some serious research about cannabis and psychosis.

Harvard Study Rebuking Pot-Psychosis theories.

How Much Can A Koala Bear? A little rant on pot misinformation and lies.

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