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History of Psychopharmacology: From Functional Restitution to Functional Enhancement

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Handbook of Neuroethics


This paper presents a very short history of psychopharmacology and attempts to make clear distinctions between (i) the practices of drug administration to insane subjects and the first observations of interactions between diseases and insanity during antiquity, (ii) the concept of psychopharmacology which appears at the end of the eighteenth century with the reform of ancient pharmacology focusing on general knowledge and the closer relations established between chemical substances and mental diseases within the first psychopharmacological rationalisms, and (iii) the rise of psychopharmacology as a discipline after the successes of a few advocates of pharmacological psychiatry in the early 1950s, with the successful uses of chlorpromazine, haloperidol, or reserpine. At each time period, ethical questions arose as to the dangers of these drugs, the addiction risks already being studied in the nineteenth century, the mental diseases which these drugs can induce being studied by means of animal experimentation, and the nonmedical uses of some drugs for enhancement behaviors and better life quality especially in children and students. The epistemology of psychopharmacology as a project arising in the early nineteenth century has developed continuously more complex methodologies for clinical trials. It is a field of intense progress and current inquiry which in return raises new ethical problems to be solved in future decades in order to guarantee progress in biological psychiatry to all social categories.

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The author thanks Chantal Barbara, Jean-Noël Missa and Frank Stahnisch for helpful comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Jean-Gaël Barbara .

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Barbara, JG. (2015). History of Psychopharmacology: From Functional Restitution to Functional Enhancement. In: Clausen, J., Levy, N. (eds) Handbook of Neuroethics. Springer, Dordrecht.

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