After a New York Times story written last week detailed the ravages of anti-depressant withdrawal, US Recall News spoke to a Manhattan psychopharmacologist and several New York City patients who are taking antidepressants–or have weaned themselves off of them–to find out whether the drugs’ benefits are worth the price of withdrawal.
We also spoke to a patient who is taking both testosterone and pot to combat his anxiety and depression.
The New York Times says “long-term use of antidepressants is surging in the United States.
Some 15.5 million Americans have been taking the medications for at least five years. The rate has almost doubled since 2010, and more than tripled since 2000.”
About 25 million adults have been taking antidepressants for at least two years, a 60 percent increase since 2010, The Times reports.
Cymbalta, Effexor and Paxil
Dr. David Gandler, a New York City psychopharmacologist, says the worst offenders–Cymbalta, Effexor and Paxil–leave the system quickly.
They can cause a rebound effect, known by the euphemism: “antidepressant discontinuation syndrome”, instead of by “addiction”, a term doctors are hesitant to use when speaking about anti-depressants.
Dr. Gandler says symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Electric shock sensations known as “zaps”
Other symptoms listed on the web were: tiredness and flu-like symptoms.
The first patient I spoke to was a 21-year old woman in Dr. Gandler’s waiting room.
She was beautiful and intelligent, but the sadness in her eyes hinted at depression.
She said she benefits from medication but is concerned about taking antidepressants during her child-bearing years, when I specifically showed her a story I wrote on pregnant women taking psychotropics.
“I want kids and I’m worried about that,” she confided.
“I’ve also felt drug withdrawal,” she added, regarding the Times story I brought into the office.
“But when a drug is working for me, I can focus better and be happier and more creative.”
Matt’s Solution: Testosterone
Matt, a 56-year old New Yorker, once ran the bond operations desk at a Wall Street brokerage.
However, he currently receives social security disability benefits, including Medicare, as his chronic depression has made working at his high-finance job impossible.
He says he recently found out his testosterone levels are lower than normal–a condition called hypogonadism–that can cause lack of energy, depression, loss of muscle mass and weight gain.
Since starting testosterone therapy last fall, Matt says he not only feels better; he has shed 30 pounds, as his appetite has been diminished.
Although he knows testosterone can cause blood clots, stroke, and may promote prostate cancer, he says: “I don’t care.”
“It makes my brain operate the way it did when I was younger and I no longer suffer with endless weight issues.”
Matt checks in regularly with his urologist who gives him the testosterone to make sure his PSA levels- a marker of prostate cancer-don’t increase.
Stopping testosterone treatment can also result in withdrawal symptoms, including depression and hot flashes.
Matt says his victory over his mental illness has been hard won.
“I’ve been on psychiatric medications for over 25 years.”
“I can remember three specific times trying to get off a cocktail of medications and having suicidal thoughts and severe depression and anxiety, and I’m not usually suicidal.
“I believe my brain has become dependent on these drugs.”
Matt continues to take his Prozac and Abilify cocktail, along with his testosterone, called Androgel, and also swears by marijuana as first-line treatment for his depression.
He doesn’t drink, as he says his father, also depressed, was an alcoholic until his untimely death.
The two illnesses are related, as depressed and anxious people often drink to numb their psychic pain.
Instant Suicide Patrol
Sai, a 53 year old man living in Ridgewood, N.J., has weaned himself off his Lexapro and feels less anxious than when he was on it.
Sai calls drug withdrawal: “Instant Suicide Patrol.”
“You want to kill yourself,” he says of his Lexapro withdrawal. Lexapro is a short-acting drug, so it’s likely to cause a severe rebound if not slowly tapered.
Parked on Drugs
Dr. Gandler says the more episodes of depression a patient experiences, the harder it is to cure it.
The Catch 22 is: you’re at higher risk for major depression by going off your antidepressant and suffering another episode than by maintaining the dose you’re on.
Addressing this issue, Dr. Anthony Kendrick, a primary care professor at the University of Southampton, in the UK, told the New York Times, “that some people are essentially being parked on those drugs for convenience sake because it’s difficult to tackle the issue of taking them off.”
“Should we really be putting so many people on antidepressants long-term when we don’t know it’s good for them, or whether they’ll be able to come off?”, Dr. Kendrick asked.
Cannabis for Anxiety and Depression
It’s an open secret that pot works wonders for social anxiety disorder as well as for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans, but until lately, pot was considered a deviant drug.
That perception is changing as one state after another legalizes marijuana.
And as Bob Dylan said, the times are changing as former Speaker of the House, John Boehner announced last week he’s joining the Board of Acreage Holdings, a multi-state cannabis company, according to CNN.
“I’m joining the board of #AcreageHoldings because my thinking on cannabis has evolved,” the Ohio Republican tweeted.
“I’m convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans [suffering from PTSD] and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities.”
Former Republican Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is also joining the board, CNN reports.
And since pot leaves your body very slowly, sometimes persisting for a month or more, it is the least likely anti-depressant and anxiolytic to cause physical dependence.
We’re looking forward to seeing Cynthia Nixon further confront Gov. Andrew Cuomo on his refusal to legalize marijuana during the mid-term election, as she’s made his resistance to legalize pot her signature campaign issue.