The Emperor’s New Drugs

The Emperor’s New Drugs (2009) by Irving Kirsch is a book that describes how antidepressants are less effective than advertised and also have considerably more side-effects than is commonly known. Kirsch is a practicing therapist and a research psychologist.

The book shows how for antidepressants the placebo effect is very similar, if not the same as the effect of the active drugs. Kirsch contrasts this to other medicine such as insulin where there is zero placebo effect.

Kirsch points out that the drug companies have a strong interest in maintaining the apparent efficacy of antidepressants and that scientists also have an interest because it allows them to maintain that explainable, chemical models of the brain are accurate. The basic model described of chemical malfunction is that neurotransmitters, the chemicals that transmit signals between neurons are malfunctioning in people with depression. The most commonly known neurotransmitters are serotonin and dopamine. Drugs that inhibit the uptake of these chemicals have an effect on depression, but so do those that enhance the uptake. Both then have a fairly similar effect to placebos.

Kirsch points out that psychotherapy, that has no side-effects, is just as effective as taking drugs. Kirsch discounts the idea that drugs and therapy are even better. According to the Psychologists I work with the efficacy of drugs and therapy is disputed.

The Emperor’s New Drugs is a crisp, informed easy read about an important subject that affects many people. It’s well worth looking at.



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