We often remark on serotonin when discussing psychiatric drugs, so we thought we’d describe it in more depth.
The word comes from the combination of sero- (serum) + tonic (from Greek tonos string or stretching) + -in (from Latin -ina a term used to form words). It was first named in 1948, although its effects had likely been observed since 1868.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter hormone synthesized in the adrenal glands and elsewhere in the body from the essential amino acid tryptophan (chemical formula C10H12N2O, also called 5-hydroxytryptamine), found in the brain, blood, and mostly the digestive tract, which allows nerve cells throughout the body to communicate and interact with each other.
Some of its effects include:
— helping smooth muscles to contract, such as the abdominal muscles that aid digestion,
— helping to regulate expansion and contraction of blood vessels,
— assisting the clotting of blood to close a wound,
— helping to regulate mood, aggression, appetite, and sleep.
It helps to create a sense of well-being or comfort in the body, which is the starting point for the theory of using it as an antidepressant.
Since serotonin impacts every part of your body, messing with it can cause unwanted and dangerous side effects. Obviously, the body must closely regulate and balance the level of serotonin, since both a deficiency or an excess can be harmful.
It is mainly metabolized in the liver and the resulting products are excreted by the kidneys.
It is also found in animals, insects, fungi and plants.
Extremely high levels of serotonin can cause a condition known as serotonin syndrome, with toxic and potentially fatal effects. It can be caused by an overdose of drugs or interactions between drugs which increase the concentration of serotonin in the central nervous system, the most common of which are the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), whose purpose is to raise the level of serotonin in the brain.
A toxic level of serotonin can occur by taking two or more of these types of drugs, even if each is only a normal therapeutic dose. Many drugs, both legal and illegal, influence the level of serotonin in the brain — including some antidepressants, appetite suppressants, analgesics (pain drugs), sedatives, antipsychotics, anti-anxiety drugs, antimigraine drugs, antiemetics (for relief of nausea and vomiting), antiepileptics, cannabis (marijuana), LSD, MDMA (Ecstasy), psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms), and cannabidiol (CBD).
There aren’t any tests that can diagnose serotonin syndrome. Instead, one has to observe the extent and severity of the various adverse reactions. Some side effects of serotonin syndrome can be altered mental status, muscle twitching, confusion, high blood pressure, fever, restlessness, sweating, tremors, shivering, or death.
Some people have a genetic defect with cytochrome P450 enzymes which influences serotonin metabolism. Some research also suggests that the interactions of psychotropic drugs with cytochrome P450 in the brain may also influence serotonin metabolism. Basically, these interactions can be extremely complex, and the results are unpredictable — meaning that wild variations in serotonin concentration, both lower and higher than optimum, may occur, with the attendant adverse reactions.
The proponents of all these drugs basically ignore the fact that they mess with serotonin when making claims for safety and usefulness. Messing with neurotransmitters in the brain without totally understanding how they work is serious business. Researchers know that 60 to 70 percent of patients diagnosed with depression continue to feel depressed even while taking such drugs. There is still a lot unknown about such interactions and long term safety, so caution is definitely advised.
An article in the October, 2018 print issue of Scientific American (“Postpartum Relief” on page 22) makes an interesting point, saying, “Many women who suffer from postpartum depression receive standard antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac. It is unclear how well these drugs work, however, because the neurotransmitter serotonin may play only a secondary role in the condition or may not be involved at all.” (Emphasis ours.)
Researchers still only conjecture about any relationship between depression and serotonin, and they are coming to understand that the results do not support the hype.
Psychiatrists have known since the beginning of psychopharmacology that their drugs do not cure any disease. Further, there is no credible evidence that depression is genetic or linked to serotonin transport; these are just public relations theories to support the marketing and sale of drugs. The manufacturers of every such drug state in the fine print that they don’t really understand how it works. Psychiatric drugs are fraudulently marketed as safe and effective for the sole purpose of earning billions for the psycho-pharmaceutical industry.
These drugs mask the real cause of problems in life and debilitate the individual, so denying him or her the opportunity for real recovery and hope for the future. This is the real reason why psychiatry is a violation of human rights. Psychiatric treatment is not just a failure — it is routinely destructive to the individual and one’s mental health.