Researchers Warn of “Brain Atrophy” in Children Prescribed Antipsychotics

Peter Simons
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In a new commentary, researchers discuss the evidence that antipsychotic medications may cause brain atrophy—especially in children, whose brains are still developing. The article was written by Tarun Bastiampillai, Peter Parry, and Stephen Allison at Flinders University in Australia, and was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry (ANZJP).

The authors write that it is accepted wisdom in psychiatry that children are more susceptible to the adverse effects of second-generation antipsychotics, such as obesity, diabetes, and sedation. However, the brain changes brought on by antipsychotics are a more controversial subject. Some psychiatrists have suggested that psychosis itself is responsible for brain atrophy and that medications may protect the brain by reducing symptoms.

Unfortunately, according to Bastiampillai, Parry, and Allison, this doesn’t fit with the research findings. They cite a study from 2011 in which longer duration of antipsychotic use, and higher dosage of antipsychotic medication, were both associated with brain volume loss. The researchers controlled for confounding factors, such as duration of psychotic “illness,” severity of “symptoms,” and substance abuse. This suggests that “illness severity” cannot be used to explain that loss of brain volume.

Likewise, studies in both monkeys and rats show that when healthy animals are exposed to antipsychotics, they lose an average of 8-11% of their brain volume, especially in the frontal cerebral cortex. The researchers tested both haloperidol and olanzapine, meaning that this effect was found for both first-generation antipsychotics and the newer, second-generation antipsychotics.

These findings are especially troubling in light of recent evidence that children are prescribed antipsychotics in the absence of any psychotic symptoms—and in most cases, without any mental health diagnosis at all.

The authors cite a 2015 article in JAMA Psychiatry in which researchers reported that “most young people treated with antipsychotics did not have any diagnosis recorded in their health care claims data”—meaning that children are being prescribed antipsychotics as a behavioral control, rather than to treat a diagnosed condition.

Olfson, King, and Schoenbaum—the authors of that 2015 article—write that these behavioral problems are developmentally limited, meaning that most children will likely learn better ways of coping and behaving, without the need for medications with dangerous, common side effects and which may be damaging children’s developing brains.

 

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Bastiampillai, T., Parry, P., Allison, S. (2018). Can antipsychotic medication administered for paediatric emotional and behavioural disorders lead to brain atrophy? Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 1-2(4867418797419). doi: 10.1177/0004867418797419. (Link)

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Peter Simons
MIA-UMB News Team: Peter Simons comes from a background in the humanities where he studied English, philosophy, and art. Now working on his PhD in Counseling Psychology, his recent research has focused on conflicts of interest in the psychopharmaceutical research literature, the use of antipsychotic medications in the treatment of depression, and the general philosophical and sociopolitical implications of psychiatric taxonomy in diagnosis and treatment.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Psychiatrists use negationism to defend their point of view. They deny that neuroleptics were introduced into psychiatry because they had the same effects as the lobotomy. They deny animal research and research on humans. They use the same tactics as the far right, who deny the existence of gas chambers to protect Hitler.

    With the use of neuroleptics and chemical castrators in US concentration camps for migrants, the latent eugenics, scientific negationism, filiation with Nazism is transparent. These people deserve to be judged and condemned mercilessly.

    • Nancy Andreasen proved in her 2007 study that so-called schizophrenia is not the cause of brain shrinkage. She is the god mother of biopsychiatry and yet she had enough guts and moral fortitude to admit that it’s the neuroleptics that cause human brains to shrink. She even carried out her study twice because she thought she’d made a mistake when the study showed that the drugs were the cause of the problem and not the supposed “disease”. Then she sat on the results for two years because she didn’t want to publicize them. And then she finally published the study. But then she said that it is important for people to continue to take the damned drugs! Go figure.

        • This is the thing that interests me a lot. She knows the truth after proving it twice with her studies. She stated her findings and said that you couldn’t dispute them. And then she chooses to spout the same old line that psychiatrists always use about “having to take your medicines”. How do they live in such a conflicted world without becoming mad themselves? Is money and power so important to them that they can lie to themselves even after seeing the truth right there in front of them? I just don’t understand it at all.

          • All medicines cause some harm while treating diseases. Psychiatrists believe in the myth of “mental illness”- that emotional suffering is a disease causing a lack of “sound judgment.” This false foundation is the root of all their harm.

  2. neuroleptics are tranquilizers with lobotomy-like effects. over the long haul, expect brain damage. if i recall correctly, the very early data on Thorazine is mentioned in Mad in America (the book), and that’s pretty much what the shrinks wrote…”chemical lobotomy,” potential for brain damage. and yet…

    The various drug companies turned neuroleptics into antipsychotics, and now tons of people have tardive dyskinesia and the other other tardive syndromes, and many, many more have brain damage that hasn’t yet manifested in such obvious and frightening ways.

    The story of the neuroleptics is a somewhat extreme case of what seems to happen with all classes of psych drugs. drug comes out, its pushed heavily…then the patents expire, criticisms emerge…thankfully (note sarcasm), a new drug or class of drugs for the same indications is soon released, and the cycle repeats. barbiturates gave way to benzodiazepines…

    Thorazine and Haldol gave way to the ‘atypicals,’ which are being scrutinized…just as some of round 1, olanzapine and quetiapine, etc., are available in generic, and have been for a while now. I think its worth noting that there’s already a new class of non-neuroleptic drugs, starting with Nuplazid, for people with Parkinsons Disease. Hmmm…

  3. what’s…I don’t know if ‘surprised me’ is what i’m trying to say…more like distrubed me, to the core…is that mental health, inc. has only gotten worse over the years. in the 40s+50s, really into the 60s…lobotomies were performed on people who had no way to fight back and rubbed people the wrong way. women, poor people, minorities, and…children, now and then. there are case studies of very young children being lobotomized, teenagers being lobotomized, etc. child abuse w/ an ice pick. awesome. but…

    If I remember correctly, the available data supports 40,000-50,000 lobotomies in the US during its heyday. The “atypical” neuroleptics are top selling drugs in the US, both in terms of profit and sales volume…so, basically, lots of people are being chemically lobotomized by extremely expen$ive drugs, the bulk of which are paid for with gov’t monies. which raises the question…

    where’s the outrage, now? how can people wring their hands over, say, Howard Dully and not ask some obvious questions of the “treatment” most “patients”/”consumers” receive in the 21st century?