Today’s subjet is “magic bullets.” Medicine does have some. Antibiotics and insulin are examples. Researchers identified a medical condition, like bacterial infection or insulin deficiency, and then they developed a medicine that would fix it… Antibiotics to kill the bacteria, and insulin to provide insulin.
Unfortunately, the blood-pressure-lowering side effect was causing patients to die, and so the application was discontinued. One doctor, however, discovered that the drug produced a “veritable medicinal lobotomy”—and a magic bullet was born. In the 1950’s, chlorpromazine (Thorzine) began to be administered to psychotic patients, and the drug that was rendering patients quiet and manageable spread like wildfire through the asylums. When a drug treatment becomes so widely prescribed, it is difficult to keep in mind that it is not treating any disease.
Thorzine is considered a major tranquilizer. How about the minor ones? Well, they also began with a search for something else. Scientists were looking for a drug that would kill the bacteria that penicillin couldn’t zap, and to that end, they were isolating a compound found in disinfectants. Research showed that this compound produced temporary paralysis of muscles, but, what was even more interesting, is that the mice who were being experimented on, did not seem to be upset when they found themselves on their backs and unable to move. Their heartrate remained steady. They were not stressed. And, low and behold, meprobonate found its way to the market in 1955 as “Miltown,” and the race for anti-anxiety drugs was on. Four years later, chlordiazepoxide made it to the shelves as “Librium.”
Meanwhile… back at the Amercian Medical Association ranch, things were changing. In the 1950’s the Food and Drug Administration took over the job of licensing and approving drugs, and most drugs became available by prescription only. The AMA was no longer the watchdog, but the exclusive purveyors, and by 1960, pharmaceutical ads in AMA publications were bringing in $10 million in annual revenue. The PR rush was on. And as the miracle stories multiplied, the rhetoric began to shift.
Tranquilizers became “antipsychotics,” and muscle relaxants became “mood normalizers.” The psychic energizers were “anti-depressants.” The public began to view these as antidotes to specific disorders, and scientists were under pressure to come up with a theory about broken brains to support the "magic bullets" that were achieving celebrity status.
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