Designer Drugs?

by MaxPower

The basis for this article has been taken from Francis Fukuyama’s recent book Our Posthuman Future (2002). I highly recommend the book as a fairly unbiased look at everything from the future of neuro-pharmacology to how (and if) consciousness defines us as humans. This brief article will look at the possibility and consequences of ‘designer drugs’ and as an armchair expert in neuropharm issues here is my take.

When one thinks of the future of humans one is often struck by the possibility of genetic engineering creating a species of supermen who are superior to normal humans in all regards. Through processes which are described in detail in Fukuyama’s book, humans may be able to engineer taller, faster, smarter, stronger and happier men and women. Fukuyama delves into some theological questions regarding if these humans would still be human or if they would have evolved to be a ‘post-human’ and as such a different species. I think most people reading this would agree that that is a scary idea. I think it’s scary, and I’m a strong proponent of new therapeutic uses of genetic engineering on humans and also for foods. Therapeutic as opposed to enhancement, another distinction Fukuyama looks at in more detail in the book. Therapeutic as defined by identifying and curing a genetically borne disease before someone gets it, as opposed to enhancement which would entail guaranteeing your child would be blonde or whatever the fad of the day is. I think that the last entry in the above list, making humans happier all the time, is A) the most possible in our life time, and B) the most disturbing.

Freud thought that mental illnesses were primarily a result of psychological dysfunctions which could not be controlled by biological means alone. Then in 1949 lithium was discovered to be an anti-depressant working directly on the biology of the brain. It was actually found as an additive in soft-drinks in the 30’s purporting to be a ‘pick-me-up’. (7-UP anyone?) Now we know that some neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine control the signals that move around in the brain and that these hormones directly impact our feelings. All of this has lead to many different psychological drugs to control various ‘non-normal’ feelings and emotions in people. I think that right now the people who get these drugs are the ones who need them and they have made many lives for many people more liveable. However, there is a new wave of drugs on the horizon that gives a whole new spin to the term ‘social control’. Right now, many drugs like Prozac and Ritalin help people who would otherwise be unhappy and unproductive in their lives. Ritalin, it seems, is a ‘super drug’ common around university campuses due to its attractive qualities. It enhances ‘normal’ behaviour, like concentration and memory retention. They will make you better than ‘good’ if you are a cramming student. But like all drugs there are side effects. Fukuyama brings up a scary point; the new wave of drugs will be customized to your physiology and genetic structure. These drugs will be without major side effects which will allow them to be taken on a daily basis. Normal people living normal lives will be able to enhance their psychological well-being by popping a ‘chill pill’. You can have one personality for your work life – concentrated and business-like – and another for Friday and Saturday night. As Fukuyama puts it:

There is no longer an excuse for anyone to be depressed or unhappy; even ‘normally’ happy people can make themselves happier without worries of addiction, hangovers or long-term brain damage.

And that really sums it up. People look to be more happy and social by drinking liquor, more chilled with weed, more up with ecstasy and less nervous with tobacco. All of these drugs have side effects. Imagine if a company came out and said you can do all of this and more without any side-effects. Most likely everyone would be on it. And if you weren’t on it, you would be considered ‘abnormal’. I’m a normal guy, get mad every once and while, it feels good to let off some steam. But in the new neuro-pharamalogical world this ‘once and a while’ outbursts would be considered highly irregular and more than likely I would feel the need to get on these pills to ‘fit in’.

I don’t want my personality coming out of a box. Unlike the far-off prospect of genetic supermen taking my job, this neuro-pharmacological revolution is something I can see coming over the next decade…


Buy it @ Amazon
Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution

  • Designer Drugs?
  • by MaxPower
  • Published on January 1st, 2004

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