"Take your pill": the role and fantasy of pills in modern medicine.
The pharmaceutical industry has undergone a vast expansion in the 20th and 21st centuries. This article explores the central role now played by pills in clinical practice, but also in the public imagination. First, this article analyzes four properties that, together, account for many of the promises and perils associated with pills: They are ingestible, potent, reproducible, and miniaturized. This allows them to serve as ideal consumer items for widespread distribution and sale and also as model technological "devices" capable of downloading into the body healing chemicals. As such, they seem to promise a disburdening solution to many of life's ills. In our cultural fantasy, often shared by physician and patient alike, pills can be used not only to treat and prevent disease but also raise energy, lose weight, lessen pain, lift mood, cope with stress, and enhance sexual and athletic performance. This article also explores many adverse effects not only of pills themselves but of this exaggerated cultural fantasy of the pill. It tends to distract us from other, more holistic understandings of the locus of disease and healing. It even fosters misunderstandings of the ways in which pills themselves work, which is to assist bodily processes, and the mind's "meaning response." The intent here is not to demonize all pills-many have great therapeutic potential-but to learn how to better choose and use them wisely. We propose that this process be assisted through recontextualizing the pill as a multidimensional gift. Taken in such a way, with appropriate gratitude and discernment, we may ingest fewer pills, but with greater efficacy.
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