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The Seizure, Not Electricity, Is Essential in Convulsive Therapy: The Flurothyl Experience

Fink, Max MD

doi: 10.1097/YCT.0000000000000110
Invited Reviews

Background For more than 50 years, research in convulsive therapy has been focused on the impact of electricity and seizures on memory and not on brain chemistry or neurophysiology. Brief pulse and ultrabrief pulse currents replaced sinusoidal currents. Electrode placements were varied, energy dosing was altered, and electricity was replaced by magnetic currents.

Method The published experiences and archival records of seizures induced by camphor, pentylenetetrazol, and flurothyl are reviewed and compared with the changes induced by electricity.

Findings The clinical efficacy of chemically induced seizures is equal to that of electrical inductions. Seizure durations are longer, and impairment of cognition and memory is less. Electroconvulsive therapy replaced chemical treatments for ease of use, not for greater efficacy or safety.

Conclusions The brain seizure, not the method of induction, is the essential element in the efficacy of convulsive therapy. Seizure induction with chemicals avoids the direct effects of electricity on brain functions with lesser effects on cognition.

Reexamination of chemical inductions of seizures as replacements for electricity is encouraged.

From the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology, Stony Brook University, Long Island, NY.

Received for publication December 18, 2013; accepted January 8, 2014.

Reprints: Max Fink, MD, Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology, Stony Brook University, Long Island, PO Box 457, St James NY 11780 (e-mail:;

The author has no conflict of interest or financial disclosures to report.

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins