History of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology

pp 419-437

The Intersection of Psychopharmacology and Psychiatry in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century

  • David HealyAffiliated withUniversity CollegeUniversity of Cambridge

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In 1930, Bleckwenn described the response of acute catatonia to barbiturates.1 In 1935, Meduna demonstrated a response of catatonic states to clinically induced convulsions.2 This was followed by Bini and Cerletti’s demonstration of the effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy for catatonic states.3 In the course of the decade, Rolv Gjessing demonstrated that periodic catatonias respond to infusions of high doses of thyroxine.4 Gjessing’s work complemented basic research in the late 1920s and early 1930s by Baruk and De Jong demonstrating an experimental induction of catatonia with agents such as bulbocapnine and later with mescaline and other psychotogenic agents. By the end of the decade even some of the arch skeptics in psychiatry such as Aubrey Lewis could state that a cure for one of the forms of schizophrenia, catatonia, had been found.5 Allied to the discovery of how to cure dementia paralytica, which in some settings had accounted for between 10% and 20% of admissions to asylums, the discoveries on how to model and treat catatonia marked the emergence of modern biological psychiatry