Measured Against Reality

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Cult of Pharmacology

I just finished The Cult of Pharmacology: How America Became the World's Most Troubled Drug Culture by Richard DeGrandpre, and I have to say that it was one fantastic book. I already thought that our differential prohibition and cultural attitude toward drugs was insane, but this book convinced me of it even more, and I don't know how anyone who read it could come away thinking otherwise.

He makes some fantastic claims, but everything is backed up by research, cited in the copious notes. One of the most interesting, I thought, is the similarity between Ritalin and cocaine. Amazingly, the drugs behave in almost identical ways after being ingested (when ingested in the same way, eg snorted or swallowed). Another is how the pharmaceutical industry glossed over the dangers of SSRIs, which their own studies showed early on to encourage anxious, self-mutilating, and even suicidal behavior in large numbers of patients.

He goes on to show how very little in our world has changed, we just trade natural, "evil" drugs for "wholesome" man-made ones, then when we realize that those are dangerous we replace them with yet another new, "wholesome" one that will once and for all alleviate the aches and pains of our modern life (examples include Miltown, barbituates, amphetamines, and many others). The problem is that the ones we started with weren't all that bad (cocaine's not even addictive, at least not in a good environment).

My favorite part of the book is when he describes the "placebo text", which is the cultural attitude toward the drug. This "placebo text" can drastically alter the effects of a drug, even powerful ones, making it benign or malevolent. It might seem like a radical claim, but it's a ridiculously well documented phenomenon.

The book is also quite well-written, and although at times it seems to lack cohesion, it's more than made up for by the compelling material and masterful writing. If you have any interest in the insanity that is our policy toward drugs, or especially if you don't, buy this book. You will not regret it.

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  • Great blog and thoughtful entries. Wow about Ritalin and cocaine. That explains a lot about my friends. Take care.

    By Blogger Goose, at 7:56 PM, August 08, 2007  

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