National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy


Psychotropic Drug Experiences Collectively Challenge Standard Mental Health Practices

Shannon Hughes, Ph.D.


A non-transparent, top-down funnel of information about prescribed psychotropic drugs’ uses, effects, and comparative value has successfully maintained a largely unquestioning mental health system dominated by the mainstay use of psychotropic drugs. Pharmaceutical industry-sponsored clinical trials on drugs’ efficacy and safety -- which constitute a primary source of information for prescribers, variously delivered through published reports, drug company representatives, patient medication guides, etc. -- neglect to rigorously assess harms or accurately report the nature and quality of even the most serious adverse events. From the bottom-up, users by the thousands have been reporting their first-hand experiences with psychiatric drugs on the Internet, disrupting the unidirectional flow of information and challenging commonly accepted versions of “what we know” about psychotropic drugs. The drug experience is more varied, subjective, and context-dependent than implied by lists of discrete effects typically presented in patient medication and informed consent guides. This talk uses online user-reported drug experiences as its own knowledge base to re-conceptualize psychotropic drugs’ effects and real-world impacts. Implications are explored for prescription practices and the role of psychotropic drugs in supporting mental health, informed consent and decision-making, use of coercive strategies around drug-taking, and power differentials between users and the mental health system.

Objectives: 

1.   Examine in what ways online user-reported drug experiences shape knowledge of psychotropic drugs’ effects and impacts differently than conventional clinical trial methods.

2.   Discuss implications of users’ first-hand experiences for the ethical practice of psychopharmacology.

3.   Critically determine the comparative value of conventional assessment of drugs in clinical trials and users’ collective experiential wisdom for constructing a transparent, relevant, and accurate knowledge base.


Psychotropic Drug Experiences Collectively Challenge Standard Mental Health Practices
(PowerPoint); August 2016)


Link to brief presenter bio:

Shannon Hughes, Ph.D.