Newcastle — My New Year’s resolution of last year was to wake up in the morning with a positive attitude. I succeeded in this about thirty-eight percent of the time. I consider this an outstanding success. It’s difficult for anyone to have a positive attitude today unless they live in a cave where someone throws them food. Learning of all the misfortunes on the planet is almost unavoidable. No news is good news.
This year I have made a corollary resolution to be happier, and to boost my chances I began on January first to take St. John’s Wort, despite a life-long aversion to drugs of any sort (save gin). I think the last time I popped a pill it was Ibuprofen, in November, 2010, when I fell off my bike and was unable to bear the pain of my mangled shoulder (it still hurts).
I have long been harangued by friend and foe to take something to ameliorate my persistent depression, and now I have given in. St. John’s Wort (also known as Tipton's weed, rosin rose, goatweed, chase-devil, or Klamath weed), a container of which I purchased at the Rising Tide, professes “mood support,” which, though slightly ambiguous, I presume aims to increase optimism. I like the fact that St. John’s Wort is herbal, a small yellow weed found along the dusty roadside. I trust nature more than pharmaceuticals.
St. John’s Wort, so named because it blooms around the birthday of John the Baptist, has been used as an herbal medicine since the time of the ancient Greeks. It has been applied to any number of medical complaints, but seems to be “likely effective” only for mild depression. One should be advised that it can be in conflict with other drugs, to the extent that its use is banned in France. However, this is not an issue for one who takes no other drugs (save gin).
The vial containing the capsules I am ingesting offers no advice about the plant’s interaction with other physical complaints. Contrast this with, say, Cialis, a remedy for erectile dysfunction that advises us to avoid usage if we are suffering any of a plethora of common health problems, and some not so common including deformation of the penis known as angulation (whatever that might be). Astonishingly, there is even a restriction on Cialis if one is breast-feeding. I don’t know any guys who breast-feed, but I admit to being a little out-of-touch. I digress.
The active ingredient in St. John’s Wort, relative to reducing depression or inhibiting the re-uptake of Serotonin, is Hypericin. Hypericin can be deactivated by exposure to light. I note that the vial I have is translucent, which seems a little stupid. Perhaps if you are also using this potion you might consider keeping the container in your sock drawer.
How can one demonstrate the effectiveness of St. John’s Wort as an anti-depressant? The only sure way is to run a double-blind, placebo-controlled study using a population of miserable people who aren’t using any other drugs. Impossible. There are plenty of miserable people, but most of them are on drugs. You won’t be able to assemble the population. I had the thought that since the weed is commonly present in pastures, the bland behavior of bovines might be an indicator of the herb’s value. Who ever encountered a depressed cow? But then I read in Wikipedia that “Ingestion by livestock can cause photosensitization, central nervous system depression, spontaneous abortion, and can lead to death.” Oops! Perhaps the best indication of efficacy is that St. John’s Wort has been in use for so long. Were it ineffectual, surely the fad would have passed long since.
How long must one use the drug before experiencing benefit? I am reminded of the eager novice Buddhist monk who asked his acariya how long it would take to be enlightened. “About 5 years” was the answer. “What if I applied myself with utter concentration and devotion?” “About 10 years.” I don’t think one can rush this sort of experiment. Kelly’s SJW Pages suggests, “It's different for everyone. You need to give it at least SIX WEEKS for it to start working. Some people start to feel it in a few days or the first week or two. Others need the full six weeks to notice a difference.”
80 capsules came with my purchase. At one-a-day this is good for about eleven weeks. I’m a “waste not, want not” sort, so I intend to finish the bottle and see how I feel. I hope I don’t have my sister’s experience. She was taking an anti-depressant a few years ago and told me that she cut back the dosage because, “I started feeling too good.” My eldest son is mildly depressed; everyone in my family is depressed. He hasn’t taken anything for it because, as he once put it: “I’m only happy when I’m miserable.” I hope I don’t end up there either. This is going to be a trip.