A couple of years ago, Jordan Peterson was a bonafide phenomenon. The Canadian psychology professor was being described as “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world”, who’d acquired a devoted, male-skewing fanbase for his at times controversial pop remixes of Jungian philosophy and his bestseller 12 Rules for Life, an ode of sorts to self-reliance and stoicism. Though Peterson was cagey on questions of religion, he expressed an admiration for the Bible and developed a following among Christians.
But then, Peterson essentially vanished without much of a trace. His daughter, a 28-year-old proponent of questionable diets named Mikhaila, posted a YouTube video saying her father been put into a medically induced coma at an unnamed clinic in Russia. According to her, Peterson had developed a physical dependence on the drug clonazepam, and the coma was a part of his plan to go cold turkey. Mikhaila said her father had nearly died as part of the ordeal.
It’s a very strange story, and there’s still a lot we don’t know about what exactly happened. The New Republic has pieced together info from Mikhaila’s scant YouTube videos and podcast interviews to come up with a loose theory of the events.
In 2017, it seems that Peterson was prescribed clonazepam, a benzodiazepine, by a family doctor as a way of treating his anxiety. The prescription was increased after Peterson’s wife was diagnosed with kidney cancer, and Peterson found himself unable to stop taking the drug without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. (As TNR notes, there is a difference between “physical dependence” and “addiction”, and Mikhaila has stressed that her father suffered from the former).
In the U.S., the medically recommended treatment for weaning patients off of benzodiazepines takes several months, with doctors slowly decreasing the dose of benzos at regular intervals. The working theory is that Peterson wanted a faster treatment, and an unnamed Russian clinic was the only spot he could find that would agree to it. Then, it seems, his body either had a frightening reaction to the treatment requiring a medically induced coma or the coma itself was part of the treatment.
It’s unclear what any of this means for Peterson’s personal or professional future, but it is a reminder of just how complex and dangerous drug problems can be, and how seriously the treatment thereof needs to be taken.