Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pain Sensitivity

Discoveries like this make me wonder if my doctors have any idea what they're doing. In the past, I've been prescribed nortrypteline, an anti-depressant that supposedly affects serotonin levels and/or serotonin uptake receptors, like most anti-depressants do. This chemical change in my brain was supposed to affect the way I perceived pain, or, I suspect is the more likely reason, "cure" me of my "psychosomatic perception of pain." Whether or not my doctor actually thought I was crazy, though, anti-depressants are routinely prescribed for chronic pain as well as myriad other psychological disorders, not only depression but things like obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders. I am convinced that a large factor in this pattern of prescription is that pharmaceutical companies have bombarded the marketplace with the idea that serotonin is the drug responsible for most if not all "emotional" dysfunctions, that their drugs will "fix" serotonin, and that therefore all you have to do is take this pill to make all your problems disappear.

Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of research done that supports this position. In fact, a large amount of the available research does not support this position. If they are effective at all, it's likely that they're not as effective as pharmaceutical companies are claiming.

There is even some evidence that anti-depressants can be quite dangerous. They can cause a greater incidence of suicidal ideation in children, as well as a condition called tardive dyskinesia, and may be related to Parkinsons. They also cause a variety of 'side-effects' related to mood, personality, sexuality and memory. Withdrawing from an anti-depressant can also be unpleasant.

It all seems to me to be a huge gamble. The business of making people happy is a big deal, obviously, with more than a few currents of opinion attempting to sway laws and habits, both of doctors and patients. Who do you trust with your brain? How far are you willing to go to find the holy grail of perfect psychological equanimity? For me to be persuaded to participate in this grand chemical experiment with the only mind I have, I would have to see much better evidence than I've seen so far.

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