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Roger Weller, geology instructor

by Misha Denton
Physical Geology
Fall 2012

Lithium- Atomic Element #3: Use in Psychiatric Illness


Check this poster 

     Lithium has a variety of purposes and can be found in the most common of human consumption.  Lithium is sold as brines, compounds, metal, or mineral concentrates depending on the end use.  Commercially, lithium is used in the production of common everyday products such as ceramics and glass, lubricants and chemicals, lithium batteries—common in consumer electronic devices (yes, it’s the battery that powers your cell phone too) and is even being used to power electric and hybrid cars (
U.S. Dept. of Energy, 2012)  just to name a few.  What few may know is that this element is also used for the treatment of certain psychiatric disorders. 


Description: Key applications lithium cesium special metals

Photo RETRIEVED from


Description: Lithium Larger lithium batteryDescription: Lithium Small lithium batteryDescription: Lithium Lithium batteryDescription: Lithium Lithium battery Description:


Photos by Theodore Gray (2008)

     Lithium used in the production of lithium-ion batteries that are commonly used in video and digital cameras, and even cell phones, for example

First 4 battery images retrieved from:

LG cell phone battery image retrieved from:  


What is Lithium?

Lithium (pronounced LITH-ee-uh-m) is from the Greek word lithos meaning stone—so named because it was first discovered in rocks.  Lithium has the atomic number of three on the periodic table of elements whose symbol is Li.  It is the lightest metal of all alkali metals on the periodic table and has the lowest density of metallic elements.  In comparison, lithium (0.535 g/cmᶟ) is about half the density of water.  It has a metallic luster and appears silvery-white in color. 

Description: Lithium LumpsText Box: Image retrieved from: 
Description: lithium

Photo credit: Dennis S. K.

Three fragments of Lithium metal

The Discovery of Lithium and A Few Interesting Facts

Lithium was first discovered in 1817 by Johan August Arfwedson of Stockholm, Sweden when he was working with the mineral petalite and can also found in pegmatite ores, such as spodumene, lepidolite, or in amblygonite ores (Encyclopedia Britannica: Johan August Arfwedson, 2012). According to RSC (2012) Lithium can be found in small trace amounts in nearly all igneous rocks and in water of hot springs and has the highest heat capacity of any solid element.  Another very interesting tidbit is that lithium chloride was used as salt substitute for sodium chloride a.k.a table salt; however, Maletzky and Shore (1978) stated that following alarming publicity [due to its adverse health effects], lithium chloride was removed from the market in 1950.

Description: Lithium PetaliteDescription:

Above left: Photo of petalite retrieved from:

PETALITE (Li Al Si4 O10), Mogok, Myanmar (Burma). Isolated, [fractured], beige crystal, rare. 2,5x1,6x1 cm; 5 g.

Above right: Photo of Swedish chemist Johan August Arfwedson

 Retrieved from:

Lithium Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders:
 A Brief History of its Discovery for Medicinal Use and FDA Approval

            Shorter (2009) stated that the use of lithium in psychiatry actually dates back to the mid-19th century, but that was soon forgotten until John Cade rediscovered lithium’s effectiveness in the treatment of mania—characteristic of bipolar disorder in 1949. 

In my review of Mitchell & Hadzi-Pavlovic, 2000 the following is noted: Cade had been confined to the Changi prisoner of war camp in Singapore  for several years and while he was there he treated psychiatric patients for their mental illnesses.  Of those patients who had died, Cade discovered, postmortem of patients, similarities in pathology such as tumors and questioned what physical causes may have underlain the causes of their psychiatric illness. 

Armed with this observation of patients postmortem this lead Cade to set up a makeshift laboratory in which he began conducting research.  Cade began injecting urine (which he believed contained the “toxic agent”) from patients who suffered from mania, schizophrenia, and melancholia as well as urine from healthy people and injected it into guinea pigs.  Guinea pigs that had been injected with the “toxic” urine samples from manic patients died more quickly than guinea pigs injected with urine samples from patients with other illnesses in his study. 

He concluded that such urine from manic patients had a higher toxicity although he had no idea what caused the higher toxicity levels obtained from manic patients.  In his attempt to find this out, Cade began searching for what would minimize the toxicity levels of urea (a product of protein metabolism occurring in urine and other body fluids, urea, 2012) and found that uric acid had a slightly “enhancing” effect. 

Wanting to explore uric acid more, Cade had to somehow increase the water solubility (capable of being dissolved, solubility, 2012) of uric acid and by chance, found that lithium urate (salt of uric acid, uric acid, 2012) was key to further study the effects of uric acid.   He injected his guinea pigs with a combination of lithium urate and urea and found that toxicity levels had dropped and discovered positive effects of the lithium which  he concluded to be protective factors from toxicity of urea.

 Following his discovery of the effects of lithium Cade began testing its effectiveness in some patients diagnosed with mania, schizophrenia, and melancholia and found the effectiveness of lithium to be most profound in manic patients, but no effect on schizophrenic or melancholic patients which Cade deduced that lithium was most effective in manic patients.  Cade left his work at that and for reasons unknown did not pursue research any further. 

                Following further investigation and research by Danish, Mogens Schou and Poul Christian Baastrup of the effects of lithium, it was accepted that lithium was effective in the treatment of mania in patients with bipolar disorder.  The National Institute of Mental Health (2012) states “Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.”  In 1970, the Food and Drug Administration approved lithium carbonate for use as treatment for bipolar disorder and depressive disorders.  

Description: LITHOBID 300 MG TABLET SA Description: LITHIUM ER 450 MG TABLET

Photo above LEFT: Identification-This medicine is a peach, round tablet imprinted with "LITHOBID 300"

Photo above RIGHT: Identification-This medicine is an off-white, round, scored tablet imprinted with "54 346".

Both photos above RETRIEVED from:


Added article from outside source: (on 4/2/15)




References (2012). Solubility | Define solubility at In | Find the Meanings and Definitions of Words at Retrieved November 24, 2012, from (2012). Urea | Define Urea at In | Find the Meanings and Definitions of Words at Retrieved November 24, 2012, from (2012). Urate | Define Urate at In | Find the Meanings and Definitions of Words at Retrieved November 24, 2012, from

Johan August Arfwedson. (2012). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from

Lithium. [Art]. In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from

Lithium. [Photograph]. In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from

Maletzky, B. M., & Shore, J. H. (1978). Lithium Treatment for Psychiatric Disorders. Western Journal of Medicine, 128(6), 488-498. Retrieved from (2012). Lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid) – Medical information regarding this treatment for bipolar and depressive disorders on Retrieved November 25, 2012, from  

 Mitchell, P. B., & Hadzi-Pavlovic, D. (2000). Lithium treatment for bipolar disorder. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 78(4). Retrieved from

National Institute of Mental Health (2012, May 16). NIMH · Bipolar Disorder. NIMH · Home. Retrieved November 23, 2012, from

Rockwood Lithium (2012). Rockwood Lithium - Applications. Rockwood Lithium. Retrieved November 23, 2012, from

Royal Society of Chemistry (2012). Lithium - Element information, properties and uses | Periodic Table. Royal Society of Chemistry | Advancing the Chemical Sciences. Retrieved November 23, 2012, from

Shorter, E. (2009). The history of lithium therapy. Bipolar Disorder, (2), 4-9. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Energy (2012, July 30). Alternative Fuels Data Center: Batteries for Hybrid and Plug-In Electric Vehicles. EERE: Alternative Fuels Data Center Home Page. Retrieved November 23, 2012, from

WebMD (2012). Pictures of Lithobid Oral | What Does Lithobid Oral Look Like? WebMD - Better information. Better health. Retrieved November 23, 2012, from

Photos Sources (in order as they appear) (Periodic table image) (Applications of Lithium) (First four battery images) (Large, lithium-ion battery image-Enlarged) (Small, round lithium battery image- Enlarged) (Photo lithium-ion battery image-Enlarged) (Ultimate Lithium-ion battery image-Enlarged) (LG lithium ion battery) (Lithium “lump” photo)

(Three Lithium metal fragments)  (Petalite image)

(Johan August Arfwedson image) (FDA approval of lithium carbonate) Lithobid+Oral.aspx?drugid=6874&drugname=Lithobid+Oral&source=0&pagenumber=2 (Lithobid 300 MG table SA and Lithium ER 450 MG tablet)

Another great source (YouTube video showing reactions of alkali metals including lithium).