Tag Archives: alternative treatment

Historical Ignorance: Anti-wheat, Anti-vaccination, Anti-anti-psychotic medication

David Laing DawsonBy Dr David Laing Dawson


We humans tend to be near-sighted. We are born in a time and place; we experience youth in a time and place. Until we are adults we don’t really make many observations and consider at length the wide and diverse world around us. Then when we do we do it without history, without perspective. We filter what we see through prisms already formed. We see only what we want to see. We are greatly influenced by what the statisticians call “peak experience”: that singular event, the one time out of 50 or 100 or 2000 that the slot machine paid out a thousand dollars. We are drawn to magic; we love the concept of luck; and we are lazy. I am disappointed to learn that the fitbit bracelet I put on my wrist every morning merely measures my activity. It does not contribute to it.

How wonderful it would be if taking a harmless pill each day could be a substitute for a good diet and exercise.

Until very recently most of us did not live long enough to experience, as adults, any more than 30 years of human change and development.

Hence the anti-wheat craze, the condemnation of wheat that is “not the wheat your grandparents ate.”

We have been selectively breeding our plants and animals since pre-history, and more vigorously and scientifically since the 18th century. Naturally we have tried to make them more bountiful and more resistant to drought and disease. And we have largely succeeded. Perhaps at the cost of variety of shapes, sizes, and tastes, but our ability to do this is the main reason we now have over 7 billion people on this planet rather than the 2 billion in my grandparents’ time. Our improved wheat may be killing us, but it is killing us because it is allowing us to feed four times as many people on this planet who now clear the land, build cities, eat all the fish, eat all the time, and burn fossil fuels.

The anti-vaxers are similarly near-sighted and ahistoric. They are too young to have memories of polio in the schools, of deaths from measles, mumps, diphtheria, and whooping cough. They are an educated lot, the press tells us, but apparently they have not read any biographies from the 19th and 18th century which invariably tell us of our subject having had 7 siblings, with two surviving into adulthood, the others dying as infants, children, and teenagers of the prevalent communicable diseases of the time.

Yes, there does seem to be an increase in autism. But the very concept of autism is new. Child psychiatry, as a sub-specialty of psychiatry, emerged alongside the concept, the studies, the definitions of this particular disorder of childhood, in the mid 1930’s. The war rather preoccupied us until the late 40’s, so any widespread awareness of Autism as a particular disease of childhood, differentiated from other forms of mental disability, could not occur until the 1950’s and 1960’s. And until quite recently those afflicted with a moderate or severe form of this dysfunction would be sent to an undifferentiated institution for retarded or handicapped children. Out of sight and out of mind. Those with mild forms of this dysfunction might be considered simply eccentric, odd, problematic. And those with mild forms of this dysfunction accompanied by exceptional abilities in other forms of cognition, were simply eccentric geniuses, mad scientists, isolated inventors, obsessive hermits. (Alan Turing)

Not that we shouldn’t study it, do the research, but the apparent increase in numbers of those diagnosed with autism can be explained by expanded criteria (autism spectrum disorder), dramatically increased school testing, de-institutionalization, an abundance of psychologists, and a renewed interest in the problem now that we have means of looking at brain function, examining genomes, and videotaping behaviour. And don’t forget, until recently, half these kids would have died from those diseases mentioned above if they (and 90 percent of their peers) had not been vaccinated against them.

Peers are not Medical Professionals

Marvin RossBy Marvin Ross

When it comes to people with illnesses helping and providing support for those newly diagnosed with the same illness, I am supportive. It makes perfect sense for people to have a support network of their peers. Many disease groups have some variation of this. When I was involved with the local chapter of the schizophrenia society, there was an excellent buddy program. Family members with newly diagnosed offspring were matched with an experienced family member who could give advice, support and comfort.

It is only in mental illness where lay peer support people are becoming quasi professionals and involved with all aspects of the illness. This, despite the research that shows that their therapeutic role is of little value. The Mental Elf Blog reported on the most recent evaluation of these programs and found that:

“there is currently little evidence to support the clinical effectiveness of this intervention for people with severe mental illness.”

So, imagine my surprise to find that there is a social worker from Quebec described as a psychiatric survivor who has developed a program called  Gaining Autonomy & Medication Management (GAM) Training for Peer Support Workers. This program was held in Toronto on December 11 but it has been given in a number of other locales throughout North America.

According to a paper written on GAM, “the approach was developed to take into account the many perspectives and relationships that users have with their medication, their knowledge and practices, their experience of mental health workers, and a thorough analysis of the current knowledge of psychotropic medications both in the field of biomedical research and in the human and social sciences.”

GAM also “recognize(s) the symbolic aspects of medication and require(s) recognition of its multiple, and at times contradictory, meanings in the lives of users and various individuals involved in psychiatric treatment.”

Now I have no idea what this means, particularly the symbolism medication may have. If you have a headache, you take an analgesic. Is that symbolic?

The only paper that I could find on Pub Med or on the internet is the one that I quoted from above. It is claimed that this strategy qualifies as best practices in Quebec but the reference link is dead. Many of the references are not there. They did mention research with 26 people with serious mental illnesses and provided a table to demonstrate the results of their research. That table shows that there was a decline in the number of medications taken at the end of the program. Is that good or bad? No idea. They may think so.

If you have a serious mental illness, your doctor will prescribe medication. That doctor is usually a psychiatrist who has six years of medical school, one year of internship, and five years of residency training to qualify as a psychiatrist. He or she should be well aware of what to expect from what is prescribed and should discuss the effects of that medication on you including side effects. The prescription will be dispensed by a licensed pharmacist with five years of university training who will pick up any drug-drug interactions that the doc may have missed.

Both the doctor and the pharmacist have ethical obligations and responsibilities to you as well as legal responsibilities dictated by their regulatory colleges. Your buddy, the peer, has none of the above education, ethical or legal responsibilities. They might say by way of support, “that sounds like a side effect. I had something similar but it went away in a few days. If it doesn’t, better see the doctor or talk to your pharmacist”. Perfectly legitimate. But you really should not be talking to him about the legitimacy of the prescription or whether you should even take it. To be perfectly pragmatic, you can sue your doc for malpractice and/or report him to his regulatory body, but what of your lay peer?

If you had diabetes, would you learn from a peer how to manage it or would you work with your endocrinologist, dietician and other regulated health professionals?

Why, when it comes to mental illness, is it considered alright to get your pharmaceutical and treatment advice from a lay person?

Magic, Shamanism and Modern Science

stone of madnessBy Dr David Laing Dawson

This was in the news today:

“The judge deciding whether an aboriginal girl can forgo conventional cancer treatment for traditional healing questioned whether forcing chemotherapy would be “imposing our world view on First Nations.” ”

This child has an acute form of Leukemia that is known to be 100% fatal untreated, but, unlike most cancers, has a 90 to 95% chance of remission and cure if treated. That is the science of it. The western medical science.

The judge’s use of the term “world view” struck a cord with me, but rather than wading into this mine-field of misperception, mistrust, and down right denial of science, I will relate a story much closer to the reality of human behavior and human motivation.

Some years ago I was consulting in Northern Ontario when I found I had an appointment with an Ojibway medicine man in the town of Kenora. He was something of an itinerant medicine man, healer, shaman, traveling to reserves in Manitoba and Ontario as needed. He was a tall man, quite imposing, with dark eyes and a charismatic intensity. He introduced himself and told his story. He was scheduled (now “scheduled” is not quite the right word here, because it certainly was our Industrial Revolution that imposed scheduling) to perform, in the near future, a second try at exorcising a powerful and evil spirit that had invaded a woman’s body. He had performed one ceremony and failed, he explained. The beast was still within this woman and destroying her and making her behave in a psychotic manner. This invading spirit, this evil, was particularly pernicious (my word), and, once out of the suffering patient, was apt to invade an onlooker.

He invited me to attend the ceremony.

“But”, he said, “You should bring some holy water to protect yourself.” He said this with such conviction that I was quite prepared to visit the Catholic Church to ask the priest if I might borrow a little from the chalice.

We talked some more, and I explored and asked what I could about the nature of the ceremony and the woman’s symptoms, and I agreed to come when summoned. But as he got up to leave I was still puzzled by something. So I asked, hesitatingly, “But really, why would you want to have me at this ceremony?”

He looked at me and said, “You might bring some of those pills of yours.”

And then he left.

And I thought, a smart man, covering all his bases. Native spiritualism, Catholic magic, and Western Medicine. And also, I thought, a true reflection of where we really are: hankering for the magic world of the spirit, the certainty and comfort of religion, but relying on the wisdom of enlightenment and science. I would take some fast-acting anti-psychotic medication with me when called.