Even the Gorillas and Bears in Our Zoos Are Hooked on Prozac
In May 1950 Henry Hoyt and Frank Berger, researchers at a small pharmaceutical company in New Jersey, submitted a patent application for a substance called meprobamate. They were impressed with the way the drug relaxed muscles in mice and calmed their notoriously testy lab monkeys: “We had about 20 rhesus and java monkeys. They’re vicious, and you’ve got to wear thick gloves and a face guard when you handle them. After they were injected with meprobamate though, they became very nice monkeys—friendly and alert. Where they wouldn’t previously eat in the presence of human beings, they now took grapes from your bare hand.” The drug caused such relaxation in the monkeys that it prompted researchers to wonder if meprobamate, which would soon be called Miltown, might be a productive complement to psychoanalysis in people. At the same time, a pharmacist at the French company Rhône-Poulenc screened a new drug, called chlorpromazine, for behavioral effects on rats. To reach a platform with food on it, the rats simply had to climb a rope. The drugged rats didn’t climb the rope, even when they learned that a shock was coming.
They seemed totally indifferent: They weren’t concerned with the shock or the food. And it wasn’t because they were sedated or uncoordinated; they were wide awake and physically unimpaired. At Sainte-Anne Hospital in Paris in the early 1950s, doctors began giving chlorpromazine to patients with delirium, mania, confusion, and psychosis. The drug didn’t sedate these people or put them to sleep as other sedatives had done. Instead, patients on chlorpromazine were aware and, like the rats, indifferent to the outside world but could engage with it when needed. In 1954 Rhône-Poulenc sold the U.S. chlorpromazine license to Smith Kline, which named the drug Thorazine. The market for the new drug was mind-boggling, generating $75 million in sales in its first year. Miltown went to market in 1955 and became the fastest-selling drug in U.S. history. By 1957 more than 36 million Miltown prescriptions had been filled and a billion tablets manufactured. Tranquilizers accounted for one-third of all prescriptions in the United States, and the drug was active in redefining the very idea of what anxiety was and who could suffer from it. (via Even the Gorillas and Bears in Our Zoos Are Hooked on Prozac | Opinion | WIRED)