After looking at the future treatment approaches for treatment-resistant depression, I thought I’d share a bit more depression and bipolar research. New options offer hope for everyone who run the gamut of bipolar or depression treatments.
- A new mood stabilizer
- A new, novel antidepressant
- Knowing when depression isn’t depression
I try not to give medical advice here because I am not a doctor. But so many people ask me about this I felt I had to address getting off antidepressants without withdrawal. So many people with bipolar disorder (depression and others) need information about getting off psych meds and they are not getting it from their doctors.
This is the first in a three-part series:
- When to Stop Antidepressants in Bipolar Disorder
- How to Stop Antidepressants in Bipolar Disorder While Minimizing Withdrawal
- How to Stop Taking venlafaxine (Effexor) and Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq) – as they are particularly nasty to get off
This is an informational article only and should not be considered a recommendation. Talk to your doctor before any and all changes to your treatment. I’m not kidding about this.
Bipolars Shouldn’t Take Antidepressants
Some doctors are on the fence about this, but more and more bipolar specialists are recommending people with bipolar disorder not take antidepressants. There are lots of reasons for this, and I have to tell you, they are compelling.
Why Shouldn’t People with Bipolar Disorder Take Antidepressants?
Some reasons people with bipolar shouldn’t take antidepressants:
- Antidepressants may not work in bipolar disorder – believe it or not, the literature is mixed on how well antidepressants even work for bipolar depression.
- Antidepressants can induce mania or hypomania (known as switching) – most of us have seen this and it happens all the time to bipolars who are prescribe antidepressants by non-psychiatrists because they just don’t understand the danger. And it is very dangerous because once switched, this type of mania or hypomania can be treatment resistant.
- Antidepressants can induce rapid-cycling or mixed moods – same as above, this cycling can be treatment-resistant.
- Antidepressants can worsen a bipolar’s illness overall – this is more controversial and I suspect varies case by case.
To be clear some people with bipolar disorder will always need antidepressants temporarily, or long term, for their mood, but more and more, doctors are saying to avoid them whenever possible. (Alternatives will be presented in a future article.)
When to Stop Taking Antidepressants
Here are some guidelines from Dr. Phelps about when to stop taking antidepressants in bipolar disorder:
- If they have been on antidepressants a short time, I stop them.
- Less than a week, stop; two weeks, cut in ½, a week later stop.
- Likewise, if they just increased their antidepressants dose I will do the above, decreasing to their previous dose and get rid of the rest later.
- If manic or severely hypomanic, get rid of antidepressants now. Usually can stop abruptly.
- If cycling or mixed get rid of the antidepressants.
- If they are not getting better after several add-on meds then slowly decrease.
- There are more exceptions to the above rules than there are rules.
When to Stay On an Antidepressant if You’re Bipolar
More guidelines from Dr. Phelps: When a bipolar should stay on an antidepressant:
- If the patient is doing well, no mixed state symptoms or cycling, leave it.
- I usually wait until the patient is doing better to much betterto stop an antidepressant; why:
- Trust is an issue. If the first thing we do is make them suffer more they will be unlikely to stay around long and may not even go to another psychiatrist.
- Even though we know the antidepressant is causing harm often time the patient thinks either the antidepressant is helping or every time they try to go off they feel much worse.
- Waiting until they are better is usually a good thing.
- Also waiting longer usually means that the patient is going to be more educated about bipolar in general.
When to Get Off an Antidepressant Recommendations
I think Dr. Phelps’ recommendations are good ones, otherwise I wouldn’t have them here, but note where he says there are more exceptions than he has listed, so keep in mind, you might fall into one of the unlisted exceptions.
And I think the part above where Dr. Phelps talks about trust and making sure the patient is better before messing around with their cocktail is key. It shows he’s respecting the patient and their health, not to mention the doctor-patient relationship which is very important.
Talking to Your Doctor about Getting off Antidepressants is Scary
I know it’s scary to think about going off antidepressants, even if you do think they are causing problems. But think about it, discuss it with your doctor and make the right decision for you. And don’t do anything until you read the next part about how to get off antidepressants without withdrawal.
Bipolar Disorder – Getting off Antidepressant Series
- Bipolar Disorder – When Not to Take Antidepressants
Does Pristiq Just Serve to Extend the Effexor Patent?
If you live in the US, you’ve probably seen all the commercials for the new and pastel-pink-coloured antidepressant Pristiq. (Yes, prescribed for depression.) Pristiq is new and has a huge marketing push behind it and is a selective serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) antidepressant. In other words, it’s an antidepressant that works on both serotonin and norepinephrine neurotransmitters. It is not the only antidepressant to do this, but SNRIs are a smaller class of drugs than those that just effect serotonin alone (like Prozac). (Although admittedly, there seems to be a suspicious number of SNRI antidepressants in development.)
Today, I was watching a Comcast On Demand program about the causes of bipolar. I thought I’d watch and see how ridiculous it was because obviously, no one knows the cause of bipolar disorder.
However, the spot had some interesting information on the brain, neurotransmitters and bipolar disorder, which I then transcribed so I could share it with you. (Yes, I really did transcribe the whole thing.)
It’s in fairly layperson terms, so give it a look. At the bottom is a bit more information about dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. This, unfortunately, is not in layperson terms, but is interesting nonetheless.
Brain Chemistry and Bipolar Disorder
And for the info:
…but research has shown that chemical imbalances in the brain play an especially key role in the onset of the disease. Every adult has more than 90 billion brain cells, or neurons. These neurons communicate with each other through chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help control a range of bodily functions such as thinking, reasoning, and mood. But when they don’t function properly then problems can occur.
Here’s how neurotransmitters work, each neurons is composed of an axon, a dendrite, and cell body. When a neuron fires, an electrical signal is sent to the axon, and down a long slender tube that functions like an antennae. At the end of the axon the signal is transferred to the neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters then travel across a synapse, or gap, to a dendrite of another neuron which receives the chemical messages. Once the process is complete the neurotransmitters are pumped back into the releasing neuron.
Under normal circumstances, just the right amount of a neurotransmitter is sent across the gap to communicate with other neurons, but in cases of bipolar disorder levels of certain neurotransmitters are abnormally high or low which experts believe can trigger mood abnormalities. For example, bipolar depression has been linked to low levels of serotonin in the synaptic gap. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate moods. Manic episodes have been associated with high levels of norepinephrine; the neurotransmitter that contributes to our fight or flight response. And too much dopamine, a neurotransmitter effecting emotions and perceptions, is linked to psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations.
Breakthroughs in diagnostic imaging have revealed that the brain structure of those suffering from bipolar disorders also differs from those of healthy individuals. Using advanced MRI and PET scanning technologies, experts now have evidence that experiences of sever episodes of bipolar depression can lead to changes in different parts of the brain. For example, the brain has two hypocampii, each located in the temporal lobes. One of the functions of the hippocampus is to help control learning, emotions, and memory. In some bipolar patients the hippocampus appears to shrink over time. Other areas of the brain’s temporal regions may shrink as well.
Since bipolar disorder often runs in families, scientists are trying to identify the specific genes that cause the condition. But genes are likely not the only explanation. Studies on identical twins reveal that if one twin develops bipolar, the other twin has an 80% chanced of developing bipolar as well. This suggests that while genes are a primary cause, other factors may also be needed for the disease to manifest itself. People born with the possibility of bipolar may find that stressful events like divorce, job loss or emotional strain can trigger the illness…
Serontonin, the Brain and Bipolar Disorder
1. It gives us self-confidence, a feeling of safety and security.
2. It causes us to feel sleepy.
3. It increases our appetites.
The part of the brain where it does each of these 3 things is a different part of the brain from the part where the other 2 things occur. Thus, for example, increasing serotonin in the part of the brain where self-confidence is will increase your self-confidence, but not your sleepiness. Unfortunately, we have no medications to increase only the serotonin in one part of the brain. This explains why medications to increase serotonin in the brain can also cause increased appetite and sleepiness.
Medications which increase serotonin in the brain (SSRI’s such as citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, and sertraline and SNRI’s such as venlafaxine and duloxetine) give us more self-confidence, and a feeling of safety and security.
By the way, serotonin also exists in our gastrointestinal tracts. In this location, it stimulates digestion. This is why such medications can cause gastrointestinal upset. But they can also help constipation.
Norepinephrine, the Brain and Bipolar Disorder
Norepinephrine is a catecholamine with dual roles as a hormone and a neurotransmitter.
As a stress hormone, norepinephrine affects parts of the brain where attention and responding actions are controlled. Along with epinephrine, norepinephrine also underlies the fight-or-flight response, directly increasing heart rate, triggering the release of glucose from energy stores, and increasing blood flow to skeletal muscle.
However, when norepinephrine acts as a drug it will increase blood pressure by its prominent increasing effects on the vascular tone from α-adrenergic receptor activation. The resulting increase in vascular resistance triggers a compensatory reflex that overcomes its direct stimulatory effects on the heart, called the baroreceptor reflex, which results in a drop in heart rate called reflex bradycardia.
Dopamine, the Brain and Bipolar Disorder
Dopamine has many functions in the brain, including important roles in behavior and cognition, voluntary movement, motivation and reward, inhibition of prolactin production (involved in lactation), sleep, mood, attention, and learning.
A common hypothesis, though not uncontroversial, is that dopamine has a function of transmitting reward prediction error. According to this hypothesis, the phasic responses of dopamine neurons are observed when an unexpected reward is presented. These responses transfer to the onset of a conditioned stimulus after repeated pairings with the reward. Further, dopamine neurons are depressed when the expected reward is omitted. Thus, dopamine neurons seem to encode the prediction error of rewarding outcomes. In nature, we learn to repeat behaviors that lead to maximize rewards. Dopamine is therefore believed to provide a teaching signal to parts of the brain responsible for acquiring new behavior. Temporal difference learning provides a computational model describing how the prediction error of dopamine neurons is used as a teaching signal.
‘Roud these parts lots of people are smoking lots of stuff that might not entirely be legal. Very common. Good climate for that sort of thing.
I though, have always been of the opinion that marijuana makes depression worse and so stay away from the stuff. Really, if you’re crazy and on psychotropic drugs, adding extra, less predictable, street psychotropic drugs doesn’t seem like a good idea. Anecdotally, do stoners strike you as obscenely happy people? They strike me as just slow, tired, munchie-craving people. That’s not going to help me feel better. (More logically, THC from the marijuana coats the outside of your brain cells, further impeding neurotransmitters, which is bad if you already have a serotonin deficiency.)
But the nice folks at McGill university weren’t about to answer the question with conjecture, which is why I like science so much. And I was surprised. Turns out that small amount of marijuana might actually help you, but large amounts can actually increase depression and maybe cause psychosis. I copied the article below for your convenience.
MONTREAL, Oct. 24 (UPI) — A synthetic form of the active ingredient of marijuana acts as an antidepressant in low doses but in higher doses can worsen depression, a Canadian study said.
First author Dr. Gabriella Gobbi of McGill University said it has been long known that depletion of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain leads to depression, so antidepressants like Prozac and Celexa work by enhancing the available concentration of serotonin in the brain.
This study offers the first evidence that marijuana can also increase serotonin, at least at lower doses, but at higher doses the serotonin in the rats’ brains dropped below the level of those in the control group.
The study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, finds excessive marijuana use in people with depression poses high risk of psychosis.
The antidepressant and intoxicating effects of marijuana are due to its chemical similarity to natural substances in the brain known as “endo-cannabinoids,” which are released under conditions of high stress or pain, Gobbi said.
Don’t rush to dial-a-dealer just yet though, because amounts are unclear, and the study was on rats. Unless you’re a rat. Then, go for it.
I do a lot of psychopharmacology research reading. Like, a lot. I try to post things that I find interesting and not bore you with everything else. Similarly, I try to post things that are decently easy to read and understand. Today though, you have not gotten off so lucky, but the article is interesting.
What is L-Methylfolate?
L-methylfolate (MTHF) is a compound your body makes from folate (and the help of a few other things). Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate, available to take in supplemental form. Pregnant mothers generally take folic acid. As you would assume, taking more folic acid, will up the level of MTHF found in the brain.
The problem comes with an MTHF deficiency. This deficiency cannot necessarily be corrected by taking folic acid as some people genetically do not synthesize enough MTHF from folate from the diet or through supplements, moreover, there is some evidence to suggests that MTHF can “turn up” the efficacy of antidepressants even when no deficiency is present. It can also take many, many times the amount of folic acid to synthesize the amount of MTHF needed than would be found in the diet or available supplements. Anticonvulsants (mood stabilizers, like Lamictal and others) can also create a depletion in MTHF.
What Does This L-Methylfolate Stuff Mean?
The long story short is this, there is some evidence to suggest that taking MTHF supplements is warranted when antidepressants have either stopped working, or are not working at all. MTHF supplements are considered neither a drug, nor a food by the FDA (funny huh) but are still regulated and require a prescription.
This is really preliminary data there are all kinds of studies needed to bear out these findings, and my explanation above has been really simplified. But the really great thing about knowing about it is that it can help you, without causing the kind of side effects you typically see with pharmacological drugs. My doctor, who is seriously a no-nonsense woman made me aware of this, really respects the author of the article, and has given me a prescription for the stuff, whatever that’s worth. When you think about it, this actually makes a lot of sense. After being on anticonvulsants for years (like, eight of them) it’s not surprising that I’m deficient in a nutrient or two. This would explain why antidepressants just don’t seem to work in some people, and also seem to stop working after some time.
The article itself is good, but it’s extremely complicated and has so many chemical names in it it makes my brain hurt. There are pictures though. Kind of funny ones, I think. So, try to wade through the article, or just print out a copy and take it into your doctor and see what the say.
Article found here. Enjoy. (At least look at the diagrams. Steve there has a sense of humor.)