'Mad Scientist' File: Psychiatrist Suggests Dosing Irish Water With Lithium To Treat Depression

Argonne National Laboratory/CC BY 2.0
Argonne researcher tests lithium-ion batteries.

Some of you may be wondering how this post ties into environment and, so, I open with an explanation.

We already inject thousands of tons of lithium into commerce every year and the volume is expected to grow exponentially in coming decades. Regardless of how depressed people are in Ireland, the last thing we need at this early juncture is to needlessly engender political opposition to lithium use in batteries by medicating entire communities with it, via drinking water.

Just that someone proposed it is so 1984-like it makes the hair stand up on back of my neck.

Irish Times reports lithium carbonate addition to public water as a proposed intervention to hard times in Ireland.

At a mental health forum on “Depression in Rural Ireland” in Ennistymon, Co Clare, Dr Moosajee Bhamjee said that “there is growing scientific evidence that adding trace amounts of the drug lithium to a water supply can lower rates of suicide and depression...He said the Government should consider a pilot project for a town in Ireland where lithium salts could be added to the water in very small doses and examine the results.

Go read the whole of it in Irish Times. Then come back here to have a look at what I think makes this idea pure blarney-kissing nonsense. I'm going to grab a shot of Jameson in the meantime.

Wikipedia summarizes the psychiatric utility of the lithium ion thus:

In the treatment of bipolar disorder, lithium compounds continue to be the standard against which newer medications are measured. Lithium salts may also be helpful for related diagnoses, such as schizoaffective disorder and cyclic major depression. The active principle in these salts is the lithium ion Li+, although detailed mechanisms are debated.

Note especially the "debated" part.

Why I wouldn't want anybody adding lithium to my water.
Below's a relevant excerpt from a material safety data sheet (MSDS), this one offered by a particular lithium supplier. This exemplary warning section is similar to several others I looked at. Note: Before MSDS' are published and distributed to customers they often get reviewed by lawyers and product safety specialists to ensure clarity and consistency with established science.

I wonder if the "consulting psychiatrist" in Ireland bothered to look at an MSDS for the lithium exposure cautionary statements?


V. HEALTH HAZARD INFORMATION
Effects of Exposure:

To the best of our knowledge the chemical, physical and toxicological properties of lithium oxide have not been thoroughly investigated and reported.

The toxicity of lithium compounds is a function of their solubility in water. Lithium ion has central nervous system toxicity. The initial effects of lithium exposure are tremors of the hands, nausea, micturition, slurred speech, sluggishness, sleepiness, vertigo, thirst, and increased urine volume. Effects from continued exposure are apathy, anorexia, fatigue, lethargy, muscular weakness, and changes in ECG. Long-term exposure leads to hypothyroidism, leukocytosis, edema, weight gain, polydipsia/polyuria (increased water intake leading to increased urinary output), memory impairment, seizures, kidney damage, shock, hypotension, cardiac arrhythmias, coma, death. (Sax, Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials, eighth edition)

Caveat.
Some targeted, high lithium doses might once have been appropriate for the maniacs who offered and underwrote boatloads of worthless credit to developers and manufacturing leaders in the years before the crash of 2008. Too late for that now.

Background.
Lots more about lithium carbonate toxicity and medical side effects in this post from February 2010: Living With The Side Effects Of Lithium-ion Batteries

Tags: Batteries