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Julian Baker
Julian Baker

The History, Experience, and Future of Psychotropic Drugs: What You Can Learn from Blue Dreams

Blue Dreams: The Science and the Story of the Drugs that Changed Our Minds

Have you ever wondered how psychotropic drugs work? How they affect your brain, your emotions, your behavior, and your sense of self? How they were discovered, invented, tested, and marketed? How they can help or harm you? If you have, then you might be interested in reading Blue Dreams: The Science and the Story of the Drugs that Changed Our Minds, a fascinating and insightful book by Lauren Slater.

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Lauren Slater is an American psychotherapist and writer who has written several books on psychology, mental health, medicine, and memoir. She is also a patient who has taken various psychotropic drugs for her own mental disorders. In Blue Dreams, she combines her personal experience with her professional expertise to tell the story of some of the most influential psychotropic drugs in history. She also explores their scientific, social, ethical, and philosophical implications for our understanding of ourselves and our world.

In this article, we will provide a brief summary and review of Blue Dreams, focusing on its main themes and topics. We will also discuss some of the questions and issues that the book raises for readers who are curious about psychotropic drugs. Whether you are a user, a prescriber, a researcher, or a bystander of these drugs, we hope that this article will inform and inspire you to learn more about them.

The History of Psychotropic Drugs

One of the main goals of Blue Dreams is to trace the history of psychotropic drugs from their origins to their present state. Slater covers a wide range of drugs that have been used to treat or alter various mental disorders and conditions. Some of these drugs include:

  • Thorazine: The first antipsychotic drug that was introduced in 1952 to treat schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. It was hailed as a miracle drug that could calm down violent or agitated patients without causing addiction or sedation. However, it also had serious side effects such as tardive dyskinesia (involuntary movements), neuroleptic malignant syndrome (a life-threatening condition), and emotional blunting.

  • Lithium: A naturally occurring element that was discovered to have mood-stabilizing effects in 1949 by John Cade, an Australian psychiatrist. It was widely used to treat bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic-depressive illness) by reducing manic episodes and preventing relapses. However, it also had narrow therapeutic window (meaning that too little or too much could be harmful) and required regular blood tests to monitor its levels and toxicity.

  • Prozac: The first selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that was launched in 1987 to treat depression and anxiety disorders. It was marketed as a safe and effective drug that could boost mood, energy, and confidence without causing dependence or withdrawal. However, it also had controversial effects such as sexual dysfunction, suicidal ideation, emotional numbing, and personality changes.

  • Ecstasy: A synthetic drug that was originally developed in 1912 as a potential appetite suppressant, but was later rediscovered in 1976 by Alexander Shulgin, an American chemist and psychopharmacologist. It was used as a recreational drug and a psychotherapeutic tool that could induce euphoria, empathy, and openness. However, it also had adverse effects such as dehydration, hyperthermia, neurotoxicity, and addiction.

  • Magic mushrooms: A group of fungi that contain psilocybin, a psychedelic compound that was first isolated in 1958 by Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist who also discovered LSD. It was used as a sacrament and a medicine by various indigenous cultures, and as a research subject and a mind-expander by various scientists and artists. However, it also had unpredictable effects such as hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety, and psychosis.

Slater provides a rich and captivating account of the discovery, invention, science, and people behind these drugs. She interviews some of the key figures who were involved in their development or use, such as John Cade's son, Alexander Shulgin's wife, and Prozac's inventor. She also shares some of the stories and anecdotes that illustrate the impact of these drugs on individuals and society. For example, she tells how Thorazine helped end the practice of lobotomy (a surgical procedure that severed parts of the brain), how lithium saved the life of Kay Redfield Jamison (a renowned psychologist who suffered from bipolar disorder), how Prozac inspired a cultural phenomenon (the so-called Prozac Nation), how Ecstasy sparked a rave movement (the so-called Ecstasy Generation), and how magic mushrooms inspired a spiritual awakening (the so-called Psychedelic Renaissance).

However, Slater also acknowledges the limitations and drawbacks of these drugs. She points out the gaps in our knowledge about how they work or don't work on our brains. She questions the validity and reliability of some of the clinical trials and studies that were conducted to test their efficacy and safety. She criticizes the influence and interests of some of the pharmaceutical companies and regulatory agencies that were involved in their production and distribution. She warns about the dangers and risks of overprescribing, misusing, or abusing these drugs. And she reflects on the ethical dilemmas and moral quandaries that these drugs pose for our society.

The Experience of Psychotropic Drugs

Another main goal of Blue Dreams is to convey the experience of psychotropic drugs from a personal perspective. Slater shares her own intimate experience with taking Prozac and other psychotropic drugs for her mental disorders. She suffers from depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), and epilepsy. She has taken various drugs to cope with her symptoms and to improve her quality of life.

Slater describes the effects of these drugs on her mood, cognition, behavior, and identity. She reveals how they changed her feelings, thoughts, actions, and sense of self. For example, she recounts how Prozac lifted her out of a suicidal depression and gave her a new zest for life. She recalls how lithium stabilized her mood swings and reduced her impulsivity. She explains how Ecstasy enhanced her empathy and intimacy with others. She narrates how magic mushrooms expanded her consciousness and spirituality.

However, Slater also admits the challenges and difficulties of taking these drugs. She confesses how they sometimes failed to work or stopped working after a while. She discloses how they sometimes caused unpleasant or harmful side effects or interactions. She laments how they sometimes made her feel numb or detached from herself or others. She wonders how they sometimes altered her personality or identity in ways that she did not recognize or like.

Slater analyzes the ethical, social, and psychological implications of using these drugs. She explores the questions and issues that they raise for herself and others who take them. For example, she asks whether these drugs are truly curing or masking her mental disorders. She debates whether these drugs are enhancing or diminishing her authentic self. She considers whether these drugs are empowering or enslaving her will. She evaluates whether these drugs are improving or impairing her relationships.

The Future of Psychotropic Drugs

explores the latest research and innovations in psychotropic drugs, such as memory drugs and neural implants. She evaluates the potential and challenges of these drugs for enhancing or altering human consciousness and cognition. She speculates on the future possibilities and risks of these drugs for humanity.

Slater provides a glimpse into some of the cutting-edge developments and experiments in psychotropic drugs that are happening today or in the near future. Some of these drugs include:

  • Memory drugs: A class of drugs that can affect memory formation, consolidation, retrieval, or erasure. They can be used to enhance memory performance, such as learning new skills or languages, or to impair memory function, such as forgetting traumatic events or unwanted habits. Some examples of memory drugs are modafinil (a stimulant that can improve alertness and cognitive function), propranolol (a beta-blocker that can reduce emotional arousal and interfere with memory reconsolidation), and scopolamine (an anticholinergic that can induce temporary amnesia).

  • Neural implants: A type of device that can be implanted into the brain or the nervous system to stimulate, record, or modulate neural activity. They can be used to treat neurological disorders, such as epilepsy or Parkinson's disease, or to augment cognitive abilities, such as attention or memory. Some examples of neural implants are deep brain stimulation (DBS) (a technique that uses electrical pulses to regulate abnormal brain activity), brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) (a technology that allows direct communication between the brain and a computer), and optogenetics (a method that uses light to control genetically modified neurons).

Slater assesses the advantages and disadvantages of these drugs for our mental health and well-being. She discusses the benefits and drawbacks of enhancing or altering our memory and cognition with these drugs. For example, she considers how memory drugs could help us learn faster and better, or how they could harm our sense of reality and identity. She contemplates how neural implants could help us control our brain activity and behavior, or how they could expose us to ethical issues and security threats.

Slater imagines the future scenarios and outcomes of these drugs for our society and culture. She envisions the possibilities and risks of using these drugs for various purposes and goals. For example, she wonders how memory drugs could be used for education, entertainment, therapy, or warfare. She speculates how neural implants could be used for communication, creativity, empathy, or manipulation.


In conclusion, Blue Dreams is a captivating and enlightening book that tells the story of psychotropic drugs from a historical, personal, and futuristic perspective. It offers a comprehensive and balanced overview of the science and the story behind some of the most influential psychotropic drugs in history. It also shares a candid and compelling account of the experience and the impact of these drugs on the author's life and mind. And it explores some of the most intriguing and controversial questions and issues that these drugs raise for our understanding of ourselves and our world.

If you are interested in learning more about psychotropic drugs, Blue Dreams is a great book to start with. It will inform you about the facts and myths of these drugs, inspire you with the stories and insights of these drugs, and challenge you with the questions and dilemmas of these drugs. Whether you agree or disagree with Slater's views and opinions, you will find her book engaging, entertaining, and enlightening.

Here are some recommendations or suggestions for further reading or action:

  • If you want to read more books by Lauren Slater, you can check out her other works, such as Prozac Diary, Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir, Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century, The $60,000 Dog: My Life with Animals, etc.

  • If you want to read more books on psychotropic drugs, you can check out some of these titles: An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine by Howard Markel; The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley; The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth by Irving Kirsch; The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys by James Fadiman; The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr; etc.

  • If you want to learn more about the latest research and innovations in psychotropic drugs, you can follow some of these websites or podcasts:; Brain Science with Ginger Campbell, MD; Nature Neuroscience; NPR Health News; Scientific American Mind & Brain; etc.

  • If you want to get involved or support some of the organizations or initiatives that are working on psychotropic drugs, you can check out some of these options: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS); Drug Policy Alliance (DPA); Erowid; Mad in America; National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); etc.


Here are some frequently asked questions about the book or the topic of psychotropic drugs:

  • What is a psychotropic drug?A psychotropic drug is a drug that affects the mind, mood, behavior, or perception. It can be classified into different categories, such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, anxiolytics, mood stabilizers, stimulants, sedatives, hypnotics, hallucinogens, etc.

  • How do psychotropic drugs work?Psychotropic drugs work by interacting with various neurotransmitters, receptors, enzymes, or pathways in the brain or the nervous system. They can either increase or decrease the activity or availability of these substances or processes. They can also alter the structure or function of some brain regions or networks.

  • Are psychotropic drugs safe and effective?Psychotropic drugs can have different effects on different people, depending on their individual characteristics, such as genetics, metabolism, physiology, psychology, etc. They can also have different effects depending on the dose, duration, frequency, combination, or context of their use. Some psychotropic drugs can be safe and effective for some people and conditions, but not for others. Some psychotropic drugs can have beneficial effects in the short term, but not in the long term. Some psychotropic drugs can have positive effects on some aspects of mental health or well-being, but negative effects on others.

  • What are the pros and cons of using psychotropic drugs?The pros and cons of using psychotropic drugs vary depending on the type, purpose, and outcome of their use. Some possible pros are: they can relieve symptoms, improve functioning, enhance performance, expand consciousness, or induce pleasure. Some possible cons are: they can cause side effects, interactions, dependence, withdrawal, tolerance, addiction, or harm.

meditation, etc.), social support (such as family, friends, peers, groups, etc.), alternative medicine (such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, supplements, etc.), or spiritual practices (such as prayer, rituals, ceremonies, etc.).



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