Gordon Johnson’s comments

Johan Schioldann: History of the Introduction of Lithium into Medicine and Psychiatry. The Birth of Modern Psychopharmacology. 1949
Reviewed by Barry Blackwell





                   The 1952 edition of The Pharmacology and Therapeutics of the Materia Medica, which I used as a medical student, stated that lithium carbonate and citrate used to have a reputation in the treatment of uric acid diathesis and gout because lithium biurate is more soluble than sodium biurate. To displace the sodium ion, however, lithium salts would have to be in toxic concentrations in the tissues. Therefore, their use is irrational. 

             Johan Schioldann traces the use of lithium in medicine and psychiatry, summarised in detail in Blackwell's thoughtful review.  While the early medical use in gout is interesting, it is the early use, in the 1880s in psychiatry in Denmark in the treatment of depression, that is one focus of the review. It centres on the primacy of the discovery of lithium and whether Cade was aware of this work at the time he embarked on his research, leading to his 1949 publication of the anti-manic effects of lithium. The most convincing conclusion is that of Callahan and Berrios (2005) who wrote that “locked in the Danish language, Lange’s work was not available to Cade."

             Following a review of Cade’s discovery, the question of serendipity was discussed - a term to which Cade objected.  Many definitions were cited and differing conclusions noted. “The faculty for making desirable but unsought for discoveries,” as possessed by the three princesses of serendip,” is a more nuanced definition (Macquarie Dictionary 2001).  Cade sought for the etiology of mania, but discovered a treatment.

              Schioldann's book will have a permanent place in the history of lithium and will generate discussion and speculation, as it has in the reviewer.



Callahan CM, Berrios GE, The Story of Lithium In Reinventing Depression: A History of the Treatments of Depression in Primary Care 1940-2004. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2005 pp 95-6.


Macquarie dictionary: Australia's national dictionary. A. Delbridge et al (Eds)., North Ryde, N.S.W.: Macquarie Library, 2001.


November 23, 2017