In the 1950s a new drug was introduced into western medical practice.
Reserpine, an indole alkaloid, was extracted from Rauwolfia serpentina or Indian snakeroot. It has been in used in Indian medicine for several hundred years, and was a treatment for conditions that we might now recognise as mental illness. Gandhi is alleged to have taken it as a relaxant.
It showed antipsychotic effects and was used in the treatment of high blood pressure. It has subsequently been banned from use in the United Kingdom, because of severe, problematic side effects. These included severe depression and unexpected suicide.
One of its predominant effects on the brain was to deplete stores of monoamine neurotransmitters, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine.
This is one of the bits of evidence that lead to the formulation of what was to become known as the “monoamine theory” of depression, a theory that still holds a lot of influence up to the present day.
The current focus has been on Serotonin, another monoamine neurotransmitter in the brain.
Freedom is about having choice. If I am aware of my automatic reactions to experience as they arise, then I can take a breath, creating a space for something new. I can choose a response in that moment, one that reflects the version of me that I aspire to be.
The brain is a highly complex organ that makes a contribution to nearly every aspect of the body’s functioning; from awareness of where we are in space, to highly complex thought, to consciousness itself.
It contains about seventy-five billion nerve cells, each of which can make roughly a thousand connections with other neurons. There are about the same number of support cells as well.
Because it is so vital to human functioning the brain is well protected inside the skull.
The evolution of the brain that has occurred over the last several million years has enabled the human species to go from being prey animals to the top predator on the planet. Continue reading →
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