Category Archives: Pharmacology

Drug treatment prior to the 1950s

You might be forgiven for thinking that drugs were scarcely used in psychiatry prior to 1950s. Official literature such as textbooks barely mentioned them. When drugs were briefly mentioned, such as for the purposes of promoting sleep and managing manic excitement, they were recommended reluctantly with injunctions like ‘they should be used as sparingly as… Read More »

Attitudes to the new drugs

In contrast to views about the old drugs, the new generation of drugs introduced into psychiatry from the 1950s onwards were greeted with immense enthusiasm, verging on zeal. One contemporary observer noted disapprovingly that the atmosphere at conferences on the new drugs was akin to religious revivalist meetings. The period is still regarded as one… Read More »

Influence of physical treatments on attitudes to the new drugs

The enthusiasm surrounding the new drugs in psychiatry is reminiscent of attitudes to the physical treatments, especially electroconvulsive therapy and insulin coma therapy. In fact, ideas about the physical treatments appeared to transfer smoothly onto the new drug treatments. Maudsley hospital psychiatrist and researcher Michael Shepherd described how psychiatric advocates of insulin coma therapy ‘like… Read More »

Theories of drug action in medicine

Historians Edmund Pellegrino and Charles Rosenberg have described the history of the modern idea of a disease and of specific treatments. In contrast to the older ‘humeral’ notion of disease as a general state of bodily imbalance, the modern scientific view emerged during the late 19th and early 20th century. According to this latter view… Read More »

Political attitudes to the new drugs

The modern state has been seeking a technical solution to the problem of madness since at least the end of the 18th century. In England, medical expertise was first legally endorsed in the ‘Private Madhouses Act’ of 1774, which required that patients admitted to private asylums be examined and certified insane by a doctor. However… Read More »

The pharmaceutical industry and the new drugs

The pharmaceutical industry played a significant part in establishing the role of the new psychiatric drugs in the 1950s and 1960s. For doing so it is sometimes credited with helping transform psychiatry into a modern ‘medical specialism’. The large-scale marketing campaigns that helped to establish the use of the early neuroleptic and antidepressant drugs are… Read More »

Recent promotion of the disease-centred model

The promotion of drugs for their drug-induced effects has become less respectable over recent years, especially in the wake of the scandal over benzodiazepine dependence. Although the benzodiazepines are associated with the treatment of anxiety and attempts have been made to articulate a disease-centred account of their action involving the neurotransmitter called GABA, the smell… Read More »

Physical Treatments and the Disease-Centred Model

In the late 19th and early 20th-century attitudes to psychiatric disorder became increasingly pessimistic. As the asylums filled up with an expanding population of chronic cases, the idea that had inspired the asylum-building programme of the 19th century that a period of respite in a well-ordered asylum would cure people, appeared discredited. Ideas about hereditary… Read More »

Insulin coma therapy

The introduction of insulin coma therapy is a seminal event in the history of modern psychiatry. Even though the aetiological theories behind its use were vague, insulin treatment is important because it was believed to act on the underlying pathological basis of the condition of schizophrenia. It rapidly became popular, its use spreading throughout Europe… Read More »