Examining the ‘psychopharmacology revolution’ (1950–1980) through the advertising of psychoactive drugs in the British Medical Journal
© The Author(s) 2018. Background: Many modern pharmaceutical products were launched during 1950–1980, as reflected in advertisements in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). One of the first therapeutic areas to benefit from novel effective medications was psychiatry. Methods: We examined BMJ advertising material between 1950 and 1980, including every other issue over six-month periods (October–March) in 1950/1951, 1955/1956, 1957/1958, 1960/1961, 1962/1963, 1965/1966, 1967/1968, 1970/1971, 1972/1973, 1975/1976, 1980/1981. We recorded numbers of adverts for all pharmaceutical products and for psychiatric drugs; we also recorded trade names, generic names and marketing company. Results: Advertising in BMJ peaked in the 1960s and declined markedly in the 1970s. Adverts for psychiatric drugs as a percentage of total pharmaceutical product advertising was broadly similar during 1955–1980, but with peaks in 1960/1961, 1970/1971 and 1975/1976, reflecting the entry of several novel compounds into the market. The peak marketing of antipsychotic drugs, sedatives and anxiolytic drugs was in 1960 and of antidepressants 1970. The time course of the rise of tricyclics and the switch from barbiturates to benzodiazepines can be seen. Drugs for psychiatry rose from ninth (1955/1956) to fourth (1975/1976) in terms of the number of products in the top 10 therapeutic areas. There is no evidence that they were advertised more aggressively (number of adverts/number of products). Conclusions: The birth of modern psychopharmacology is reflected in the advertising of psychiatric drugs in BMJ. Many drugs currently used, or their closely related successors, were launched in the early to mid-1960s. This rise in modern pharmaceuticals preceded several other major therapeutic areas.