The FDA Should Ban ECT Until It Goes Through Rigorous Testing
During routine ECT, the passage of the electric current through the brain causes an especially intense grand mal (generalized) convulsion, often accompanied by flat lining of the brain waves on the EEG and always resulting in a coma lasting several minutes or more. On awakening, the patient suffers from a syndrome associated with traumatic brain injury, including trauma followed by unconsciousness, memory loss, disorientation and confusion. The results, as with any trauma, grow worse with each exposure, as the ECT series progresses.
Therefore, there is no doubt that ECT damages the brain. Each treatment produces clinically obvious devastating acute results, described in many books and articles. The only question is “How complete is recovery?” and there is ample evidence that recovery is often incomplete, commonly leaving the individual with months of retrograde memory loss as well as ongoing cognitive losses. The long-term adverse effects closely parallel those of athletes who endure multiple high-impact concussions. It is clear that ECT is among the most dangerous treatments used in medicine, surgery or psychiatry. The idea that is has any redeeming benefit continues to lack empirical evidence. The common claim that it reduces the risk of suicide is not confirmed by a single scientific paper. In a system of rational medicine, ECT would be banned.
In 1985 the NIH Consensus Development Conference on ECT labeled it the “most controversial” treatment in psychiatry (5th attachment). It noted an average memory loss spanning 10 months (8 before and 2 after the ECT)! It found no empirical evidence for effectiveness beyond four weeks, which coincides with the period in which acute brain injury renders the individual either euphoric or apathetic, and too neurologically impaired to self-evaluate or to feel strong emotions. The evidence for brain damage has grown since 1985, including the publication of Sackeim’s 2007 long-term study in multiple clinical settings showing a lasting dementia syndrome in many patients (6th attachment). The NIH Consensus Conference conclusions and the Sackeim study, in and of themselves, are sufficient to demonstrate that ECT is highly dangerous and should be banned until it can be thoroughly tested in the manner at least as rigorous as for any new psychiatric medication.
I recently constructed an extensive free website, www.ECTresources.org. It contains PDFs of dozens of scientific papers with a search mechanism for subjects such as brain damage, cognitive dysfunction, memory loss, animal studies, and controlled clinical trials. It also contains my entire 1979 medical book on ECT which remains the most detailed documentation of brain injury. …