DPH, Dreyfus learned, had been tried on dozens of diseases

Dr. Oscar Resnick interviews one of the prisoners who were treated with DPH in a pioneering experiment at the Worcester (Mass.) County Jail.

Since the symposium, Dreyfus, with Dr. Turner’s help, has continued searching the technical literature and has uncovered further evidence, including studies made at Duke and Columbia on the effects of DPH upon hundreds of children with serious behavior problems. He has also found dozens of papers dealing with the effects of DPH on diseases he never suspected the drug had been used for. Though he was pleased and excited, it puzzled him to discover the incredible variety of ailments which DPH was reported—always in small numbers of cases—to have helped. Among these were certain heart disorders, skin diseases, severe pain, asthma, migraine headaches, hypertension and drug addiction. It seemed improbable that any drug could be that kind of panacea, and he wondered if perhaps something was wrong with the research. But be also thought that maybe there was a common denominator in all these disorders that was somehow tied to a malfunctioning of the nervous system. This conjecture led him to the idea that excess electricity—which he had continued to think of as the key to his old problem—was perhaps the key to all these disorders.

It all began to appear more plausible after he consulted with Dr. Toman. In Toman’s laboratory at the Chicago Medical School, Dr. Paul Gordon had been carrying out experiments on the effects of DPH on animals and on animal brain tissues. Toman explained to Dreyfus that DPH, unlike typical mind drugs of his acquaintance, had the ability to normalize the nerve cell’s electrical functioning, and to do so without itself interfering with any of the cell`s normal activities. Exactly how DPH does what it does on the molecular level inside the cell is still imprecisely understood. But the drug does, in Toman’s words, “stabilize the electrical threshold against a wide variety of agents and conditions which ordinarily lead to hyperexcitability.”

Dr. Gordon’s animal experiments reinforced the feasibility of Dreyfus’ theories that 1) excess electrical activity can make a mind less able to concentrate, and 2) DPH, by lowering or canceling the excess electricity, can clear the mind. At a meeting of biologists, Gordon pointed out that in young, healthy people, when a brain cell is stimulated—by a thought, by a sensory impression, by an electrical stimulus—the cell fires, then subsides once more. In abnormal conditions—as Gordon believes exist in many aged people—the stimulated nerve cell keeps on firing. Thus it keeps propagating signals that contain no information at all, but are rather, in Gordon’s words, “akin to static or ‘noise’ in electronic circuitry”—a surmise independently put forth by Dreyfus once to explain the nonstop mind. Such distracting static might well interfere with concentration and learning, Gordon said, and may be a reason why the ability to learn and to retain knowledge is often impaired with the approach of senility. If a drug like DPH could normalize the cell’s firing, cutting out the static, perhaps the mind might clear and learning ability improve. Gordon tried DPH in rats, and it did indeed, in a painstaking series of trials, “uniformly enhance the deteriorated learning behavior of the aged animals.” Going a step farther, Gordon then took healthy young rats and artificially created electrical abnormalities in the brain. As a result, their learning abilities were considerably impaired. Here again, Gordon says, DPH was found to “normalize learning.”

Reassured by this added, albeit incomplete, understanding of how DPH works, it no longer seemed illogical to Dreyfus that the drug might be of help in such a variety of ills. The nervous systein does after all control everything from heartbeat to digestion to respiration, so it is not surprising, he decided, that any serious malfunctioning of nerve cells might cause or aggravate a whole spectrum of physiological disruptions. And if the malfunction happened to be the type that DPH could normalize, then DPH was a feasible treatment. “DPH simply makes you feel normal,” says Dreyfus. “It does not sedate or tranquilize you. It does not pep you up. We have yet to read or hear of anyone ever getting ‘hooked’ on it in an addictive sense. The body does not build up a tolerance to it. The same dose remains effective without any necessity for increasing it. It has few side effects.” Most of these side effects, according to literature on DPH, occur with high, continued dosage, usually 400 to 600 milligrams a day. But most epileptics take no more than 300 milligrams, and the average daily dosage used in Dreyfus foundation research is 100 to 200 milligrams.

Until about a year ago, Parke, Davis & Company, manufacturers of Dilantin, had no inkling of Dreyfus’ purely nonmercenary interest in its product. The company has made available to the Dreyfus foundation its extensive files on DPH, and is awaiting the outcome of ambitious new DPH research programs, that Dreyfus has helped initiate at Johns Hopkins and Harvard. The Dreyfus foundation’s research results to date have been sent to the National Institutes of Health as well as to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has not yet been officially requested to approve the new uses of DPH, and until such approval is both requested and granted, neither Parke-Davis, nor other manufacturers may promote or advertise the drug for these purposes. But DPH has been in the pharmacopoeia since Dr. Houston H. Merritt and Dr. Tracy J. Putnam reported its merits as an anticonvulsant some 30 years ago. That being the case, physicians who want to prescribe it for these other purposes may do so. But until the final results of the research are in, the general medical attitude toward the new claims being advanced for DPH must be: Not yet proven. But Dreyfus, with his instinct for probabilities, is now quite relaxed about the outcome.

Read about Jack Dreyfus's remarkable life in The Lion of Wall Street.