The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'better living through chemistry'
The rise in the use of antidepressants in Britain could be threatening shrimp populations across the coast; scientists have found that shrimp exposed to fluoxetine (i.e., Prozac) concentrations similar to those in waste water are more likely to be fatally overconfident, swimming towards light where they'd be easier prey for predators.
Q: What do (US) Chicken McNuggets™ and Silly Putty have in common? A: dimethylpolysiloxane, an "anti-foaming agent".
American McNuggets (190 calories, 12 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat for 4 pieces) contain the chemical preservative tBHQ, tertiary butylhydroquinone, a petroleum-based product. They also contain dimethylpolysiloxane, “an anti-foaming agent” also used in Silly Putty.
Christopher Kimball, the founder and publisher of Cook’s Illustrated magazine and host of the syndicated cooking show America’s Test Kitchen, says he suspects these chemicals are required for the nuggets to hold their shape and texture after being extruded into nugget-shaped molds.These chemicals don't show up in McNuggets in Britain, apparently due to the EU's stricter food laws.
(via Boing Boing)
Studies have found that our water supplies are full of pharmaceutical substances, from antibiotics to antidepressants to birth control drugs. Not to worry, though; the heady pharmaceutical cocktail is far too dilute to have any immediate effects.
Of the 28 major metropolitan areas where tests were performed on drinking water supplies, only Albuquerque; Austin, Texas; and Virginia Beach, Va.; said tests were negative. The drinking water in Dallas has been tested, but officials are awaiting results. Arlington, Texas, acknowledged that traces of a pharmaceutical were detected in its drinking water but cited post-9/11 security concerns in refusing to identify the drug.
Contamination is not confined to the United States. More than 100 different pharmaceuticals have been detected in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and streams throughout the world. Studies have detected pharmaceuticals in waters throughout Asia, Australia, Canada and Europe - even in Swiss lakes and the North Sea.Meanwhile, tht beefburger you're eating may well be full of delicious steroid goodness:
Cattle, for example, are given ear implants that provide a slow release of trenbolone, an anabolic steroid used by some bodybuilders, which causes cattle to bulk up. But not all the trenbolone circulating in a steer is metabolized. A German study showed 10 percent of the steroid passed right through the animals.There you have it: it's a scientific fact that eating beef makes you more masculine.
Estrogen-like substances in toxic waste turn male fish female; now, it turns out, they turn male songbirds into super-smooth lotharios, capable of singing the songs that get them all the chicks, like a wave of avian Smoove Bs:
Accordingly, the polluted male starlings sang songs of exceptional length and complexity -- a birdsign of reproductive fitness. Female starlings preferred their songs to those of unexposed males, suggesting that the polluted birds could have a reproductive advantage, eventually spreading their genes through starling populations.(Today's word of the day is "birdsign". If you're an indie-folk songwriter, make a note of that one.)
(via Boing Boing)
An expatriate Briton in America was diagnosed as clinically depressed, prescribed antidepressants, and even scheduled for shock therapy, before doctors realised that he was not depressed, just British. (Or, to be precise, English.)
Doctors described Farthing as suffering from pervasive negative anticipation: a belief that everything will turn out for the worst, whether it's trains arriving late, England's chances of winning any national sports events, or his own prospects of getting ahead in life. The doctors reported that the satisfaction he seemed to get from his pessimism was particularly pathological.
'They put me on everything -- lithium, Prozac, St. John's wort,' Farthing says. 'They even told me to sit in front of a big light for half an hour a day or I'd become suicidal. I kept telling them this was all pointless, and they said that was exactly the sort of attitude that got me here in the first place.'The symptomology of Britishness, it seems, is indistinguishable from that of depression (the next edition of the DSM will presumably contain an entry for it). Luckily, both conditions are treatable.
(via Mind hacks)
In recent health-related news: a cure may have been discovered for the debilitating condition of unrequited love. Researchers in Alabama and Iran have found that a combination of the hormones of melatonin and vasotocin may alleviate the condition:
Intense romantic love is associated with specific physiological, psychological and behavioural changes, including euphoria, obsessiveness, and a craving for closeness with the target.
The key is the pea-sized pineal gland, which produces melatonin. This hormone plays a key role in the circadian cycle. It has also shown anti-dopamine activities in part of the brain, while a second hormone, arginine-vasotocin, also has a key role in romantic love. The researchers suggest that giving the two hormones may be a cure for non-returned romantic love.(Alabama and Iran? I wonder whether there's any deeper significance to two places known for religiously-based social conservatism being at the forefront of research to control a powerful and sometimes disruptive phenomenon. Is it heartening or disturbing that, even as talk of a US/Iranian war grows louder, US and Iranian scientists can join forces in the War On Unrequited Love?)
Also in the same article: taking showers may cause a neurodegenerative condition associated with inhalation of manganese, keeping dogs may cause breast cancer and sunlight may increase violent impulses.
Nick Bostrom (director of the "Future of Humanity Institute", who also argues that it's likely that reality is a computer simulation) speculates about the possibilities of neural enhancements:
There was a talk at this conference on 'virtue engineering' by James Hughes of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies in Hartford, Connecticut. He spoke about the idea of using technology to enhance moral behaviour. A lot of people have trouble with impulse control, for example, and they might benefit from pharmaceutical help.
In the context of marriage, an interesting possibility is the use of pharmaceuticals to regulate the pair-bonding mechanism. There are a small number of hormones, such as vasopressin and oxytocin, that might help us form bonds with others. It could be possible to prevent the levels of these chemicals from trailing off, and to infuse romance into fading marriages -- like a technological form of counselling.
Remember Melanotan, the wonder drug which promised to turn those who took it into a new dominant caste of tanned, chiselled, hyper-attractive übermenschen and überfrauen with superhuman sex drives? Well, it turns out that the drug company shelved it because it did too many things to be marketable, instead using the project to develop different products. The first of which is a "super-aphrodisiac" named PT-141 which produces instant sexual arousal, bypassing the need for time-consuming foreplay, and making sexual fulfilment a possibility for today's overworked wage-slaves and compulsive multitaskers who lack either the time or the attention span to do things the slow, old-fashioned way:
The five-minute meaningful sexual encounter: if ever there was a holy grail for the age of the tight-wired global economy - with its time-strapped labour force and its glut of bright, shiny distractions - that is it. And if ever there was a reason to be wary of the pharmaceutical industry's designs on the market for sexual healing, say critics such as Tiefer, it's the attractiveness of that simple-minded ideal.
Tiefer is just as dubious about PT-141, which, as she sees it, is merely the latest expression of a 'big wish' that 'we could just bypass everything we want to bypass' on our way to sexual happiness, skipping the complicated, often lifelong work of sorting out all the emotional, physical and autobiographical triggers that turn us off and on.
Good things would come of it, to be sure. Marriages would be saved, fun would be had. But sexual Utopia? PT-141 seems just as likely to usher in the age of McNookie: quick, easy couplings low on emotional nutrition. Sex lives tailored to the demands of a jealous office or an impatient spouse. A dark age of erotic self-ignorance tarted up in the bright-coloured packaging of a Happy Meal.Of course, the next step that is needed is a drug that creates meaningful emotional bonding, of the sort that would take months if not years of laborious intimacy, in minutes. Just pop a pill before the speed-dating evening and, by the time the night is over, you will have acquired a soulmate. Think of the productivity gains that such an invention could usher in: no more need for dinner-and-movie dates, romantic weekends away or holidays together could translate into countless billions of extra hours either for productive work or economically beneficial consumption of entertainment products.
Commuters in Stockholm will soon have access to library book dispensers on the city's subway:
The idea is that residents will be able to stick their library card into the 'bookomatic' and choose from up to 700 titles. It was inspired by a similar machine in Lidingö library, which, since its launch a year ago, has been happily loaning out around 500 books a month.Sweden already has the ubiquitous free commuter papers, full of wire news stories and lifestyle articles listing the latest fashions/gadgets/DVDs/holiday destinations; the book idea sounds like a more Scandinavian socialist take on the concept, less concerned with keeping the reader running hard on the hedonic treadmill and more with an idea of civilised communal amenity and supporting public culture. (Of course, it could well be that the books are sponsored and carry ads and/or product placement.)
Meanwhile, The Times' Caitlin Moran deconstructs the very idea of commuter reading material and its true purpose, from a characteristically English point of view:
Library book dispensers on trains are nothing to do with books. Sweden isn't, as a result of all this, going to become more literate, and start quoting bits of The Brothers Karamazov during trade meetings at the UN. No one actually reads when they commute. "Reading" s all about avoiding eye-contact with anyone in your carriage. You are, after all, travelling at 80mph, in a sealed pod, with a great many people — any one of whom could try to talk to you about secret codes in the Bible, or George Galloway.
As anyone who uses the London Underground will confirm, the Evening Standard, circulation 350,000, isn't a newspaper at all. No one pays the slightest attention to the articles inside. It's merely a disposable, 40p screen that one erects for privacy between Goodge Street and Archway. But this screen is vital. Without it, the only option, on being approached by a nutter, is to pretend to have seen something fascinating out of the window — even though you are, at the time, in a 12-mile-long pitch-black tunnel under Camden Town. Halfway through such an exercise — maybe when staring intently at a brick all covered in black sticky fluff — one can start to wonder just who the nutter is here, after all.Moran then goes on to suggest, in Swiftean fashion, that this mass social avoidance is a wasted opportunity to discover the resources offered by one's fellow commuters:
For instance, we'd all love to have a wide selection of friends, spanning all ages, cultures, professions and sexual persuasions. Well — here they all are! Pressing into your back! Within these airless walls is a human Google — practically everything you could ever need in one lifetime. The number of a good plumber. The address of the best mojitos in Barcelona. A phenomenal one-night stand. Someone who knows Julie Elliman, with whom you lost contact in 1990. A guy you can pretend is your friend for the next ten years, sporadically tapping up for free legal advice. Someone who knows how to falsify a breathalyser test. A nun. If only we could all get talking, commuting would be transformed from a semi- unendurable hell into the biggest, most egalitarian networking mechanism known to man.Her modest proposal is to pump laughing gas into peak-hour Underground carriages, breaking down those awkward social barriers and getting everyone talking and having a great time. I'm not sure about laughing gas, though I imagine it may be an ideal test environment for aerosolised oxytocin.
The next trend in lifestyle-enhancing medication could be oxytocin inhalers. The hormone enhances trust, confidence and sociability and can be nasally delivered, making it an instant treatment for the symptoms of everything from autism to anxiety disorders.
Of course, since oxytocin makes people more trusting, it could also be used surreptitiously to obtain compliance from unwitting parties, for anything from sex to salesmanship to outright robbery.
Mental disorder of the day: Scrupulosity is a debilitating form of obsessive-compulsive disorder which takes the form of excessively fastidious religious observance, often in completely arbitrary ways, and fear of not being sufficiently devout or virtuous. It most commonly affects teenagers and recent religious converts:
Ciarrocchi has had patients who spend as much as 12 hours a day praying. He says he once treated a Third World-based priest who, after conducting his weekly outdoor Mass, would crawl on the ground searching for slivers of Communion wafer. In his mind, a priest had to be perfectly fastidious about discharging his holy responsibilities or else risk the wrath of God.
"Many people who are scrupulous have a notion that they're being watched," he says, "and one false move, it's curtains."
He recalls an Orthodox Jewish teenager who made so many promises to God — to drink only so many sodas a day, to visit 7-Eleven only so many times a week, to never switch radio stations midsong — that keeping track of them got logistically impossible. It became debilitating.
"He couldn't move," Mansueto says. "He literally couldn't get out of his chair."
The first five months of his new life were blissful. Then he became increasingly scrupulous. He would retreat into his room for hours at a time, memorizing about 300 Bible verses word for word. He'd dissect church sermons and agonize over his prospects of salvation.Evidence of the phenomenon of scrupulosity goes back to at least the 9th century (when the Christian church brought in the ritual of confession, and compulsive confessors were first encountered), and some say that famous religious figures throughout history, including St. Ignatius of Loyola and Martin Luther, were afflicted with this condition. (Of course, had they been "healthy", they may well have lived their lives out in contented obscurity.)
" 'Do you really think I'm saved?' He'd probably ask me that 10 times a day," his wife says.
"It became a huge tormenting thing for me," he says. "I started fearing I was never converted or saved. I would have blasphemous thoughts, cursing God in my mind. I'd have to pray to get rid of it."
Fortunately, drugs such as Zoloft and Paxil can be used to treat scrupulosity. I wonder how many potential saints the world loses every year to modern psychopharmacology.
Scientists in Zurich have found that dosing people with oxytocin (aka the "cuddle hormone", associated with makes them pathologically trusting:
"Of course, this finding could be misused," said Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich, the senior researcher in the study, which appears in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature. "I don't think we currently have such abuses. However, in the future it could happen."
"I once likened trust to a love potion," Damasio writes in Nature. "Add trust to the mix, for without trust there is no love."
Dose a group of people with oxytocin and it's group hugs all round. The problem with that is that they become easy prey for anybody wishing to take advantage of them, such as con artists. If a delivery system (perhaps an aerosolised form of oxytocin, or one that can be dissolved in drinking water) could be developed, oxytocin could also be useful as a non-lethal mass-behaviour-control weapon. Imagine oxytocin bombs dropped on Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba or Venezuela; all the warring factions, insurgents and resisters put down their weapons and become one big happy family, with the added advantage that they're more than happy to sign over their sovereignty, oilfields, folk-song copyrights and traditional medicine patents, and give Starbucks a national coffee monopoly if merely asked.
(via bOING bOING)
The Russian scientists behind RU-21, a pill originally developed to allow KGB agents to drink and remain sober, have now developed a pill which keeps you drunk for longer.
My only question is: why? Would having another drink be too enjoyable or something?
An Australian company is trialling a testosterone spray to boost the female sex drive. The spray, designed for post-menopausal women, also works on young women wanting to get their bootywhang on; the only side-effect so far is abnormal hair growth.
Of course, the street finds its own uses for things. Viagra and its competitors have transitioned from prescription-only anti-impotence solution to nightclub party drug (in some places, drug dealers mix them with speed or the cocktail of dubious shit that goes into "ecstasy" tablets and call it "sex-tasy"), and young men with no medical problems can buy them online for recreational uses from dodgy pharmacies (sometimes with tragicomic effects, such as the teenaged schoolboys who thought it'd be cool to take Viagra before going to school one day, not thinking through the mortifying social consequences of spending a day in school with a conspicuous erection). And there's no reason why the same won't happen for the testosterone spray. One imagines rampaging hordes of young women huffing the stuff like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet and ravaging their way across the urban landscape like amazon Viking berzerkers, aggressively hitting on everyone in their path, their mustaches shining in the full moon, and occasionally getting into testosterone-fuelled "he's mine! no, mine!" fistfights.
In this pre-Valentine's Day romance-related-article silly season, health experts are claiming that unrequited love is a real illness that can kill.
He said many are "destabilised by falling in love, or suffer on account of their love being unrequited" and this could lead to a suicide attempt. Few studies deal with the "specific problem of lovesickness", he said.
Which sounds like a bit of a cop-out to me; I don't doubt that unrequited love has caused many mental breakdowns and suicides, though I wonder how much of that comes from the biology of the condition and how much comes from the social expectation that, when someone you fancy doesn't fancy you, you're entitled to whine, pout, go all emo and become temporarily unresponsible for your behaviour. For example, during the Victorian era, many women would faint in certain social situations. This was not due to the biology of the female gender being susceptible to sudden consciousness loss, but due to programmed-in social expectation. Could it be that losing one's shit over that one special person in the world who doesn't reciprocate one's passion is a similar case of cultural conditioning?
(Which is not to say that romantic love or sexual attraction is culturally constructed; I don't for a moment entertain the blank-slate theory of human nature. However, it's more than conceivable the expectations of how such urges are expressed, and how much they can affect one's behaviour, are strongly influenced by cultural expectations, and that, as biological and physical causes of behaviours are revealed, they gain more influence as the self-sustaining illusion of the sovereign free will becomes weakened.)
Then again, now that unrequited love is recognised as a bona fide medical condition, perhaps some pharmaceutical company will seize the opportunity and bring out an anti-unrequited-love drug, a sort of Prozac for the heart which quickly and conveniently cures this debilitating ailment, further streamlining the human condition.
Thanks to Britons' love affair with Prozac, Britain's water supplies are full of yummy Prozacky goodness.
(I wonder what the drug companies think of all those Britons getting a sample of Prozac for free every time they drink from the tap. Is it a free sample to drum up business, or intellectual-property piracy on a national scale? Though at least seasonal affective disorder may be less severe.)
All joking aside, Britain's Environment Agency (which apparently isn't run entirely by polluters' representatives yet) claims that this is a "potential concern", and that Prozac in the water table may be toxic. Mind you, judging from the taste and consistency of tapwater in London, if the stuff already in it doesn't kill you, a little bit of extra Prozac probably won't make much difference.
I believe this is a parody of those "Love Is" cartoons seen on posters in the London Underground:
It looks like antidepressants are wreaking havoc with the human courtship/mating/bonding instincts, doing everything from dampening sexual desire and disrupting the positive feedback mechanisms that lead to emotional bonding to preventing those affected from recognising bad relationships or feeling any desire to seek good ones: (via FmH)
Serotonin enhancers can also dampen the sex drive of men and even their ability to ejaculate. These men naturally shy away from bedding women, leading to increased loneliness, setting up a vicious cycle of depression. Also, without frequent orgasms, men and women dont have the flood of oxytocin and vasopressin that promote relationship bonding. Men might enjoy a womans company, but never fall head over heels for her. Semen may also be critical in retaining a womans interest, as recent studies indicate that men may alter womens emotional states through chemicals transmitted through semen.
One guy on SSRIs would look at a beautiful woman and recognise that intellectually, but he said there was no oomph. He described being on the drugs as if the lenses in his glasses somehow had been changed. He wanted off the drugs. Even if he couldnt chase women because he was a married man, he still wanted to enjoy looking.
Thomson also worries that some women could suffer a double whammy where antidepressants hinder their natural judgment to leave a bad relationship and also blunt their ability to spot healthy, desirable new mates. Indeed, he recalls that one patient wasnt healthily distressed when an abusive ex-boyfriend with a history of stalking showed up at her door.
Though I'm sure that humanity, a technological species, will adapt. Perhaps we'll become a species of solitary cube-dwellers, choosing breeding partners by some market-based mechanism or computerised matching system, and future generations will find it incredible that, once upon a time, people relied on wild, atavistic passions to select their breeding mates?
Fish on Prozac! (Which sounds like a Clag/New Waver MP3 mashup, but I digress.)
According to a study by a Baylor University toxicologist, fluoxetine -- the active ingredient in the antidepressant Prozac -- is making its way to a lake in the Dallas area and into the tissue of the fresh water blue gill fish.
Science may have finally developed a happy fish that doesn't mind being eaten, and whose fluoxetine-saturated flesh makes you contented.
The latest pharmaceutical hit with the Beautiful People of Hollywood is a KGB-designed anti-hangover drug. Originally designed to allow agents to drink opponents under the table whilst remaining clear-headed and unimpaired, the drug is being marketed as RU-21 by a US company. They are reportedly doing a roaring trade.
"Russians can out-drink anybody in the world anyway," said Emil Chiaberi, head of Spirit Sciences, which sells the pill in the US. "I don't know why they needed a pill."
John Shirley, who wrote some very dark and fucked-up post-cyberpunk scifi stories, has a Mental State of the Union, about the rise of mental illness of various sorts in our society, and the way that this is exacerbated by all sorts of things, from neurotoxins in the food chain to a generation of Ritalin kids to the dismantling of unprofitably expensive support networks for the mentally ill; he concludes with the suggestion that our society itself may be pervasively insane:
What is insanity? Among other things, it's the idea that we're immune to consequences. A madman thinks he's invulnerable -- at times when he's not being paranoid, as our Sane Leaders were in the McCarthy era. We think we can dump billions of pounds of toxins into ourselves -- and not have one in three people come down with cancer and one in five with a psychiatric disorder. We are insane as a society. We are far more asleep, more automatic, more mechanistic in our reactions, our behavior than we know -- and that is something psychiatry diagnoses as disassociation.
What if, as a society, we're far crazier than we realize? What if -- and that includes this magazine's hipster readership, each with his or her own set of conditioned psychological reflexes and insanely overblown vanities -- what if we're all truly -- not figuratively, but truly -- insane? We happen to be insane in a way that's functional, like a heroin addict who gets enough dope so he doesn't start screaming and manages to get through his day. But he knows his addiction in insanity. We're functional -- but insane.
Though that begs the question: was there ever a "sane" society? Did humanity or its ancestors once live in some primal arcadian utopia where everybody was sane, with insanity being a natural symptom of language/technology/urbanisation? Or is "sanity" itself (as defined above) on the scale of any society above a certain small size an impossible Platonic ideal, with human psychology being what it is?
It has been noted that the human brain can handle about 150 social relationships at any one time; any societies with more than that number of members require details to be abstracted away (Malcolm Gladwell mentions this in The Tipping Point). Perhaps any society that's not divided into autonomous units of 150 or fewer people automatically becomes "insane"?
A Canadian company has developed a pheromone spray which instills fear in rivals. The spray contains androstenone, a male hormone signalling dominance, and causes the wearer's opponents to "subconsciously feel fear, intimidation and submission". It is aimed at athletes seeking an advantage in sporting competitions; however, as the street finds its own uses for things*, one can imagine non-athletic applications for it. Riot police, ticket inspectors, skinheads and football hooligans could all find uses for it, for example; meanwhile, high-pressure businessmen could wear it to "psych out" their rivals. And perhaps some adherent of the "chicks dig jerks" school of sexual relations will even apply it to picking up women.
And speaking of women, I wonder whether androsterone would be as effective when worn by a woman. If the rumour about female MPs in Britain having testosterone implants to better compete in the territorial sparring ground of Parliament is true, that could be an entire market in itself.
* aside: perhaps this statement should be referred to as Gibson's Law or something?
In the UK, a Harley Street gynaecologist has revealed that he prescribed testosterone implants to five women MPs, to help them be more aggressive and assertive in parliament, and thus compete better with male colleagues. Which raises a number of questions; is the Westminster parliamentary system inherently macho and masculine? Is politics really just atavistic territorial posturing, with all the haughty rhetoric about "rational debate" being little more than a polite fiction? And will the increased number of women in parliament lead to a less confrontational, more conciliatory style of politics (as many have hoped), or will it, coupled with medical technology, just create a unisex gladiatorial arena?
Via Graham, Caring For Your Introvert.
With the possible exception of Ronald Reagan, whose fabled aloofness and privateness were probably signs of a deep introverted streak (many actors, I've read, are introverts, and many introverts, when socializing, feel like actors), introverts are not considered "naturals" in politics.
Isn't that the truth. If you're a natural introvert, being social can be like acting as it requires running an extra layer of emulation, and extra effort; which is why us introverts get tired by having to do so for long periods of time, or why we can be grumpy or unsociable when tired.
In our extrovertist society, being outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable, a mark of happiness, confidence, leadership. Extroverts are seen as bighearted, vibrant, warm, empathic. "People person" is a compliment. Introverts are described with words like "guarded," "loner," "reserved," "taciturn," "self-contained," "private"--narrow, ungenerous words, words that suggest emotional parsimony and smallness of personality.
Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves. Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books--written, no doubt, by extroverts--regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward. We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts' Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say "I'm an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush."
What's more likely is that introversion will be medicalised (possibly classified as a form of Asperger's Syndrome; either that or a social anxiety disorder) and there will be drugs released to "cure" it. If your kid doesn't like playing sports with other kids and prefers to read books, or (less anachronistically) uses their computer for designing imaginary cities/languages/worlds rather than instant-messaging their friends, you will be able (and expected) to give them drugs that make them into a fully-functioning, ruggedly outgoing extrovert. Sure, they'll lose a lot of their creativity and capacity for abstract thought, but they probably weren't going to be the next Albert Einstein anyway, and isn't it much better that they play well with other kids?
The US military has developed what could be the ultimate Viridian weapon: fuel-eating bacteria, which devour oil and petroleum supplies, leaving humans unharmed. And to further realise the dream of a kinder, gentler, fluffier form of warfare, they're also experimenting with bombing enemy troops with Valium. Come to think of it, why not just bomb them with MDMA, and make everybody feel all loved-up and not at all in the mood for fighting?
Here comes the next big pharmaceutical thing: Melanotan, a.k.a. the "Barbie pill", a drug which promotes skin tanning and weight loss whilst enhancing sex drive.
Yesterday's drugs were about need; today's are about desire. The unlocked human genome opens even our innermost passions to scrutiny and tinkering, blazing the way to an entirely new class of pharmaceutical. A more conservative, more religious culture than ours might want "doubt blockers" or "gnostogenics" to empower their spiritual side. But for better or worse, Americans who pay for quick-fix drugs will want beauty, happiness, and the illusion of wealth.
The future will belong to the tanned, slim, buff and oversexed; the Shiny Happy People will inherit the earth.
A drug that eliminates sleep, without the side-effects of stimulants such as caffeine, Marketed as Provigil, it is currently prescribed only to patients with certain medical disorders; but we all know that the street finds its own uses for things, right?
But would executives pressure their employees to take a pill for the team? Possibly, says Serwer, if they heard that workers at other firms were pulling Provigil-fueled all-nighters. "You would be at a competitive disadvantage if you didn't," he says.
As more and more Americans (and other westerners, to an extent) spend more and more of their lives on medication, from childhood ritalin to adolescent MDMA to adult Prozac, the question arises of what proportion of personal relationships are mediated by medication: (via Follow Me Here)
But according to Dr. Amy Banks, a psychiatrist at the Stone Center for the Study of Relationships at Wellesley College: ''There are two categories of medicated couples. There are those in which the medication allows the rightful relationship to emerge, and then there are those in which medication serves as a screen to cover up real issues. How can you tell them apart?''
"I saw a woman ... with 7-year-old twins. She came to me because she felt she needed to be less mean in her relationship. But she has 7-year-old twins while her husband gets to kick back, sleep late. She resented the hell out of him. I told her: 'You know what? Drugs won't fix this. I don't want to take away your anger.'" What Banks is saying makes a lot of sense, but there's also something a tad condescending to it. I mean, if the woman doesn't want anger, why impose it on her? Maybe, for her, the best thing is to mellow out. There is something to be said for living a less honest life, the edges softer, peace in place of confrontation.
(This piece reminded me of a scifiesque story idea I once had, about chemical marriage counselling, in which troubled couples are given drugs (acting much like phenylethylamine, the "falling-in-love" neurotransmitter) to make them fall in love all over again. I never figured out, however, whether such a programme would be a roaring success or a catastrophic failure.
Studies have apparently shown that women select sexual partners by scent, in a way that maximises diversity of immunity genes, but that women on the pill choose exactly the wrong partners, at least from the point of view of genetic immunity. Mind you, not all scientists agree even that humans can pick up such olfactory information. (via RobotWisdom)
Are we beset by a bevy of new mental illnesses, or is that a consequence of psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies medicalising the human condition, coming up with things such as "general anxiety disorder"?
There was even a proposal, put forward recently in the British Medical Journal, that happiness should be classified as a "mental disorder". Thankfully, it was a joke, intended to satirise the fact that what previous generations would have thought of as simple unhappiness can now be defined as one of a range new-fangled psychiatric conditions...
Having failed to come up with cures for what he describes as "serious" diseases such as cancer and dementia, Dr Le Fanu says the pharmaceutical industry switched its attention to what he calls "lifestyle" problems - unhappiness, obesity, baldness and forgetfulness.
But can the medical industry bear all the blame, or is this phenomenon a natural byproduct of a modern consumerist culture of instant gratification? Can we really expect a normal person from a culture of home-delivered fast food and channel surfing to develop a stoic resilience to life's ups and downs, rather than popping a pill to make everything alright?
Beyond caffeine: A drug developed for treating narcolepsy can be used to help the sleep-deprived stay alert. Wonder how long until it's advertised in banners on Slashdot... (via rebeccablood.net)