Saturday, May 14, 2011


Sister: Why don’t you write your blog again?

Me: I don’t really have a life to write about

Sister: Good point.

Awkward/Painful Pause

Solution: I picked a Word of the Day (an free email thing I subscribed to in during my SAT year of high school and now serves as confirmation that yes, my email still works, but, no, that person still hasn’t e-mailed me back yet) and wrote for ten minutes about it.

Vulnerary: used for or useful for healing wounds.

Placebos are vulnerary especially for depression treatment, at least according to an article in Time that I don’t have time to reference. The article basically states that the placebo effect account for a large percentage of the effect of anti-depressant drugs. It's definitely debatable, but for the sake of this particular blog post, I'll assume that it's true. In that case, it must suck to be the neuroscientists who devoted his/her whole live to developing a drug which is basically a sugarpill with nasty side effects. There are lot of scientists who wasted their time on things that later turning out to have been useless – alchemy and astrology come to mind – so it seems likely that scientists today are working on something that 100 years from now while only serve to proof a point in a poorly written blog. There’s something I can strive for.

In all fairness, depression would be a very difficult drug to develop a cure for. Animal models wouldn’t really respond to a placebo effect, and a rat’s causes for “depression” can’t possibly be as numerous or complicated as a humans. I know that causes and cures don’t quite have a one to one relationship, but they’re monogamous enough that it isn’t a leap to say that if there are multiple, complex, interacting causes for one species (bad relationships, living in parent’s basement, death of loved one, homesickness, accurate self-perception etc) and only a handful of simple reasons for another (repeated shock, dangling by tail), then there are probably multiple, complex, interacting cures for one species, and only a handful of cures for the another.

In the case of depression, if it is true about placebo’s being as effective as real drugs, I think that illustrates the point that with most psychiatric cases the brain is best interacted with in the way that it was built to be interacted with – communication with other humans. The doctor communicating the idea that the pill would cure the patient is what cured the patient and nothing else.

Tinkering with brain directly is usually going to be a crude affair. I’m not saying that there aren’t a whole lot of brilliant neuroscientists out there, but 100 years of research isn’t going to put mankind’s knowledge of the brain at more than a very rudimentary level. It’s true that occasionally, rudimentary can be good enough. If a person is bleeding profusely, a person with rudimentary knowledge can bandage and clean the wound. But he won’t be able to actually heal the wound, only the body itself can do that, and I think that is the point that we are at with psychic drugs– we can help the brain along, but ultimately the brain can take care of itself the best.

The amazing things about most psychic drugs is that, with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, they are only artificially activating and amplifying systems in the brain that already exist. The fact that psychic drug are just crudely manipulating natural systems illustrates the point that the possibility for a cure, all the necessary receptors and neuropeptides, already exists in the brain and if it can be manipulated the way the brain was meant to be manipulated, by communication with other humans, the cure will be more subtle and without side effects.

Note: It may be difficult to believe that I could write something this awesome in ten minutes. It may feel insulting to spend almost as long reading something as I probably took writing it. I really don’t care how you feel, I already have the additional page views : )

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