It’s getting harder to remain unmedicated in the Altered States of America.
WE insist on all-natural products in our baby food and household cleaners; why don’t we demand natural moods for ourselves?
Americans suffer from an overabundance of processed foods, synthetic hormones, virtual relationships, silicone breasts and, now, fake moods, brought about by an ever-increasing percentage of us taking psychiatric medications.
The patients I meet in my Manhattan psychiatric practice are stressed, sad and scared. Many lead lives with little movement, sunshine or human touch, spent staring into a computer screen, under fluorescent lights. Chronically sleep-deprived and eating poorly, they feel terrible. Women shuttling between work (where they earn less than men) and home, straddling child care and aging parents, are stretched to their limit. They escape by drinking, texting, shopping or eating. My patients want pills to make them feel better but, honestly, I’m afraid it’s to make them feel less.
Many psychiatric patients are truly sick and need medication. It is my job to understand the risks and benefits of these meds, and I’ve seen them do a lot of good for people in real pain. But there is a big push to lower the standards, especially for women, for being sick and needing prescription drugs.
The pharmaceutical industry spends billions in advertising and billions more paying researchers and prescribers directly. Women are inundated with messages that it’s pathological to feel sad or scared, with a barrage of ads that advance the question from, “Should I take an antidepressant?” to “Which one?”
Recently my psychiatric journals have been full of glossy ads promoting a new diagnosis, “binge eating disorder.” A picture of a sad, lonely woman surrounded by junk food sits underneath text introducing me to the diagnosis, encouraging me to ask my female patients if they sometimes regret how much they eat, because they may be ashamed to talk about it.
These ads were paid for by Shire Pharmaceuticals, the same company that makes the amphetamine Adderall. But Adderall has lost its patent, hence Vyvanse, a new, ultra, long-acting amphetamine. Shire’s newer ADHD ads also target women, recommending Vyvanse for 12-hour control of symptoms “throughout her day.”
It’s getting harder to remain unmedicated in the Altered States of America. Street drugs, speed and heroin, have come in, out of the cold, and are now Adderall or Vyvanse, OxyContin or Zohydro as Big Pharma expands into the recreational market. More women are becoming addicted to opiates and dying of overdoses, and more women are taking antidepressants and sleeping pills than ever before. We are medicating away our sensitivities and we are all the worse for it. Women are being convinced that it’s pathological to be emotional.
The first thing a woman says after she starts crying is, “I’m sorry.” We are uncomfortable with expressed emotion, and we have been socialized to shut it down. But by suppressing this sensitivity, we’re stifling a piece that we need, that our partners and families need, and that the world needs. When we are overmedicated as a nation, we lose our empathy, the natural connection to humanity.
After 20 years of psychiatric practice, it’s clear to me that women today need more soothing than ever. Beyond our jobs and families, we are exposed to traumas worldwide, courtesy of our phones. Our empathy goes out across the country to kids shot on campuses; globally, weapons bought with our taxes kill doctors and children. We are wired for empathy, but it is all too much. For many, psychiatric medications are a temporary Band-Aid; adding amphetamines is not going to help. For real solutions, we have to look beyond the prescription medical model and toward a more holistic approach.
With soaring drug prices and insurance premiums, it is no wonder a revolution is slowly brewing, with more Americans taking their health care into their own hands. They are rediscovering an herbal model of health care, using remedies with names like Phoenix Tears and Charlotte’s Web. The medicinal cannabis community is growing, educating and supporting one another. There is no patenting a flower.
Cannabis is an ancient medicinal plant, a weed that cleans the air better than trees and puts nutrients into the soil. The crop yields tons of hemp seeds — a complete vegetarian protein, oil for biodiesel and fiber for paper, canvas, rope, building materials, compostable packaging, and the list goes on. Forget Donald Trump, hemp can make America great again.
And, of course, there’s the flower of the female plant: a painkilling, anti-inflammatory, metabolism-regulating, cancer-killing, heart-opening medicine. Side effects include a shift in perception, a dehabituation that may help you reconnect to the earth, to your own body and to each other. Cannabis can help you to feel more, not less.
Am I suggesting you ditch the antidepressants, opiates and amphetamines in favor of a natural remedy? Not always. But the balance needs to shift. And I do at least want to pose the question: If we have a choice, isn’t a natural mood better than a synthetic one?