Ruined Lives: Big Pharma, Psychiatry and Overdiagnosis

Bipolarized: Rethinking Mental Illness

Directed by Rita Kotzia (2014)

Film Review

This documentary tells the tragic story of a man with presumptive PTSD who was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 17 and spent the next 16 years drugged up with lithium carbonate. In 2010, after two attempts to stop the lithium caused incapacitating depression, he admitted himself to a specialist clinic in Costa Rica that helped him gradually taper and discontinue the lithium.

Although family and friends noticed an immense improvement in his functioning (he was less depressed and more alert, energetic, and focused), without the medication he continued to experience disabling spells of anxiety.

He tried numerous alternative treatment options:

  • He saw a naturapath who gave him 20+ intravenous chelation treatments for toxic blood levels of lead and mercury.
  • He saw a shaman in Colombia who treated him with psychic surgery.*
  • Yoga (partially effective)
  • Acupuncture
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation**

Finally he saw a psychologist specializing in trauma therapy who diagnosed PTSD and helped him work through childhood micro-traumas he experienced with an extremely physically and emotionally abusive father.

In May 2012, he joined a protest at the American Psychiatric Association annual conference  with hundreds of other psychiatric patients whose lives were ruined by misdiagnosis.

The film blames the tendency for psychiatrists to misdiagnose and overdiagnose serious mental disorders on the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), the current “bible” of psychiatric diagnosis. Many psychiatrists acknowledge that recent DSM editions (DSM III through DSM V)  have been heavily influenced by Big Pharma. At present, the vast majority of psychiatric research is funded by pharmaceutical companies.

The current DSM V is very different from DSM II, the manual I used during my residency. Prior to the release of DSM III (published two years after I finished training), psychiatric diagnosis was based on a patient’s longitudinal psychosocial history. In other words, with the help of family, a psychiatrist took a full his of a patient’s emotional and social functioning. Beginning with DSM III, psychiatrists were trained to diagnose a patient based on a single interview and DSM III’s Chinese menu system of symptom clusters.

However even under DSM IV and DSM V criteria, it’s totally inappropriate to diagnose a patient bipolar based on a single manic episode. To qualify for this diagnosis, there needs to be a clear pattern of repeated mood swings.

For me the most interesting part of the film was a quote from Robert Whittaker (in Mad in America) about a WHO study revealing Third World schizophrenics have better treatment outcomes than those from the industrial North. The former receive mainly psychosocial treatments; while the latter are nearly always treated with psychotropic medication.


*Psychic surgery usually involves the channeling of spirits to eliminate acute and chronic illnesses.

**Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.

 

Psychodelics and Plant Medicine

Psyched Out: Documentary on Psychodelics and Plant Medicine

Directed by Giovani Bartolomeo (2018)

Film Review

The first video below is a documentary based mainly on the work of the late Terrence McKenna, a US ethnobotanist who was one of the first to investigate the healing effects of psychodelic plants. The film also features contemporary psychodelics advocates Dr Gabor Mate and British author and journalist Graham Hancock. The second video concerns a bank robber who was trained as an ayahuasca* shaman by a fellow prisoner.

Psyched Out begins by tracing the history of psychodelic use in healing and religious ceremonies. DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) was widely used by ancient Egyptians. McKenna believes Moses was under the influence of DMT when the burning bush spoke to him. He also suggests the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve ate in the Garden of Eden was actually the amanita mushroom. He also also sees a fundamental role for psylocybin in the supercharged evolution of the human brain occurring 15,000 – 20,000 years ago.

Between 3,000 – 1,500 BC, the use of psychodelics in healing and religious ceremonies occurred in all major civilizations. It ended in Western civilization in the 4th century AD with the Roman emperor Constantine’s formalization of the Catholic Church as a political body. Beginning with European colonization in the 15th century, psychodelics were banned nearly everywhere in the world.

McKenna and others believe the early church banned psychodelics because their role in expanding consciousness (ie these plants make people aware of their unconscious processes) leads people to question their fundamental beliefs about authority and their role in society.

For me the most interesting part of the film were the testimonials given by three patients who took ayahuasca and experienced total remission of longstanding opiate addiction, panic disorder/insomnia, and incapacitating scleroderma.**

I was also intrigued to learn of important discoveries and inventions directly related to psychodelic use, including the DNA double helix, the polymerase chain reaction, and several of Steve Jobs’ innovative Apple products.


*Ayahuasca is a hallucinatory tea made from a plant and vine containing DMT.

** Scleroderma is a group of autoimmune diseases that may result in changes to the skin, blood vessels, muscles, and internal organs. The disease can be either localized to the skin or involve both skin and other organs.

Kentucky Ayahuasca Episode 7

Vice (2019)

Film Review

I normally hate reality TV, but that was before I watched Kentucky Ayahuasca. Steve Hupp offers two-day Ayahuasca ceremonies with his wife and two apprentice therapist With 15 years experience, he boasts an 80% success rate for refractory PTSD, depression, and addiction and bipolar disorders.

Although, as a Schedule 1 drug, ayahuasca is illegal in the US, Native Americans are allowed to use it in religious ceremonies. Hupp calls his church the Aya Quest Native American church.

Readers can view the entire Kentucky Ayahuasca series at

https://video.vice.com/en_us/show/kentucky-ayahuasca

Treating Depression with LSD Microdosing

LSD: Microdosing LSD in the Name of Self-Improvement

DW (2019)

Film Review

As it’s title suggests, this documentary concerns LSD “microdosing,” a fad originating with Silicon Valley tech executives. They discovered that tiny doses (10-15 micgrograms) of LSD greatly improved their mood, energy, focus and creativity. Microdosing has since taken off in Germany and other parts of Europe.

The film begins with testimonials from anonymous German microdosers who believe that LSD has totally turned their life around. One man whose depression failed to respond to any other treatment (including antidepressants, psychotherapy and alternative medicine) finally obtained relief after a brief period of microdosing.

Filmmakers also interview Paul Austin, a Silicon Valley microdosing coach, and James Fadiman, leading expert on LSD and psilocybin microdosing and author of the 2011 Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide.

Researchers in Germany and Switzerland are conducting double blind studies of LSD microdosing. At doses between 10-15 mg, their subjects experience a clear improvement in concentration, mood and anxiety in contrast to placebo control groups. Moreover, unlike antidepressant trials, there are no apparent adverse effects.

The film also looks at promising double blind research of the psychedelic psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) in treating depression. Unlike LSD, “shrooms” are legal in the Netherlands and have been decriminalized in a number of US cities. Portugal legalized all mind-altering drugs in 2001 (see British Medical Journal Calls for Legalization of All Drugs)

Other research has shown psilocybin and other psychedelics to be helpful in treating PTSD and alcoholism. See Why Are We Sending Vets to Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico

 

The History of Medical Marijuana Research

A Life of Its Own: The Truth About Medical Marijuana

Helen Kapalos (2016)

Film Review

A Life of Its Own profiles the parents movement behind the 2016 Australian law allowing doctors to legally prescribe marijuana for their patients. The grassroots movement began with a policeman and his wife who obtained black market cannabis (on a doctor’s advice) to treat their son for severe side effects of cancer chemotherapy. It came to include dozens of other parents who had to break the law to treat children with intractable epilepsy and other severe disabilities.

Cannabis has been used to treat a variety of medical conditions for over 5,000 years. American doctors first used cannabis resin to treat children’s seizures in 1841. In the 1930s, shortly before the paper, plastics and petroleum industry conspired to have hemp (and cannabis) taxed out of existence (see The Politics of Hemp), US doctors wrote more than 3 million prescriptions for cannabis tincture for a variety of conditions.

There are few (roughly 100) randomized controlled trials of marijuana’s effectiveness as a medical treatment. This relates partly to strict laws in most countries prohibiting the cultivation of cannabis and partly to the unwillingness of the pharmaceutical industry to fund medical marijuana research.

I was very surprised to learn that most of this research occurs in Israel, funded by US foundations. The world pioneer of marijuana research is Raphael Mechoulom, professor of medicinal chemistry. Mechoulom, who first began studying the medical effects of cannabis in the 1960s, was the first to identify tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), its main therapeutic ingredients. In addition to identifying the presence of CBD1 receptors in the brain and CBD2 receptors in the immune system, he has also developed dozens of cannabis strains specific for different illnesses.

Israel has conducted the largest number of cannabis trials in the world, involving 20,000 patients at four hospitals. In addition to epilepsy, conditions studied include Parkinsonism, Tourette’s, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, PTSD and terminal cancer.

Psychedelics: A Miracle Cure for PTSD?

Soldiers of the Vine

Directed by Charles Shaw (2016)

Film Review

This documentary traces the experience of six US veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who undergo treatment with the psychedelic ayahuasca, owing to their failure to respond to conventional treatment.*

Ex-GIs who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer extremely high rates of PTSD, traumatic brain injury and suicidal depression. They commit suicide at twice the rate of the general population and US prisons, mental hospitals and homeless shelters are full of disabled veterans.

Studies show that psychedelic drugs, such as ayahuasca and ibogaine** are often helpful in treating heroin addiction and alcoholism. Their use in PTSD is still experimental.

In the film the six veterans travel to the Amazon jungle, where ayahasca is viewed as a sacred plant, to undergo a nine day healing ceremony with an indigenous shaman.


*Western medicine has no recognized treatment for PTSD.

**Ibogaine is legal for treating drug addiction in over 190 countries, including Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Russia, China and Ukraine. See Why Are We Sending Vets to Costa Rico (and Canada and Mexico).