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Leslie L. Iversen

, Susan D. Iversen

, Floyd E. Bloom

, and Robert H. Roth

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date: 01 August 2021

The discovery of the unique ability of chlorpromazine to treat the bizarre thought disorders, delusions, and hallucinations that accompany schizophrenia was one of the great advances in psychopharmacology in the 20th century. It was a serendipitous discovery that relied on the astute clinical observations of the French physicians involved. Chlorpromazine was synthesized as a potential antihistamine, and it was the surgeon Henri Laborit who first observed its unique calming effect in a human subject. However, it was Pierre Deniker and his assistant Jean Delay who first successfully tested the drug in schizophrenic patients, with results reported in 1952. Many believe that the discovery of chlorpromazine was as important to psychiatry as the discovery of penicillin was to the rest of medicine. Chlorpromazine was widely adopted for the treatment of schizophrenia in Europe and the United States, and it revolutionized the management of the disorder.

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