From Vasotec to Valium to Viagra, 70 percent of Americans are taking prescription drugs to treat their ailments, according to a Mayo Clinic study. Although their purposes vary widely, the one thing that unites the thousands of synthetic substances consumed daily is their charge to deliver us from disease. But soon, drugs might also offer benefits when no disease exists.
Healthy people already chemically enhance their minds and bodies, but the drugs they use carry negative connotations. From physical enhancers such as anabolic steroids to mental ones such as Adderall, the current roster of performance-enhancing drugs is an infamous one. The infamy is not unwarranted, either. The slew of chemicals people abuse recreationally in sports, school, the workplace and elsewhere are dangerous and largely considered unethical.
However, the biotechnology industry might help change that. The recent growth in the biotechnology industry, as measured by the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index, could influence the trend of pharmaceutical self-enhancement. New drugs such as modafinil are changing the public’s perception of performance-enhancing drugs, and new technologies such as gene therapy are also gaining traction.
Associate professor of neurobiology John Mihic said it reasons that healthy people can medicate, too.
“Why can’t healthy individuals self-medicate to enhance some aspect of their physiology if they can self-medicate by taking aspirin?” Mihic said. “We’re allowed to self-medicate with cigarettes and alcohol (both of which are harmful), so it’s not like the argument can be made that we shouldn’t self-medicate with other agents because they might be harmful.”
Mihic said the important thing is to think about how new drugs will fit into our lives.
“It’s really not about pharmacology — it’s about what our society considers the proper use of drugs as well as who should make decisions about whether they should be administered,” Mihic said.
The era of the medicated übermensch is still a pipedream. But as biotechnology evolves, we must reconsider what it means to medicate — and medicate ethically — before that era arrives.
Schmidt is a physics and aerospace engineering sophomore from Austin. You can follow him on Twitter @heyjakers.