The pills set to make you WANT to exercise more, quit smoking and stay faithful to your partner
By Brian Clark Howard
Last updated at 7:46 AM on 9th May 2011
Science fiction writers have often imagined a world where pop pill to cure or curb a range of ills.
But, according to a new book The Compass Of Pleasure, that futuristic world may not be far off.
The book, by Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist David J. Linden, explores the search for drugs that may alter behaviour by working on the brain.
These drugs are often called 'psychopharmaceuticals', and they can be used to stop smoking, quit drinking, ward off midnight cravings or even stay faithful to our spouse.
Critics argue that it is dangerous to meddle in human behaviour, which has many nuances and factors that are poorly understood.
There is also the possibility for harmful side effects, as anyone who has seen a pharmaceutical ad on TV might suspect.
Further, could behavior-altering drugs become tools of criminals, or even terrorists.
The book's author, Mr Linden, told the New York Post that the emerging field poses several important ethical questions.
He said: 'Do you honestly think that the FDA will approve a drug to keep men from cheating? I don't think so.
'Even if a drug had no side effects, if it was the perfect drug, I don't think society is going there.'
However, Mr Linden misses the fact that the FDA has no jurisdiction over drugs made in other countries, which are already the source of millions of pills routinely smuggled into this country, often through legal mail services via online orders.
While Merck or Eli Lilly might not be marketing No Cheat in the next few years, it could conceivably appear on the black market, fuelled by the anxiety of worried lovers.
When it comes to such a class of compounds, an early entrant to the legal market is a product called Liquid Trust, which is said to be based on the natural hormone oxytocin, sometimes called the 'cuddle hormone'.
Scientists know oxytocin is released after sex and during breast feeding, and it is thought to play a role in bonding between people.
Liquid Trust, which sells for $30 for a quarter of an ounce, is said to offer 'the power of trust', based on a study that found a nasal spray of oxytocin seemed to increase trusting behavior.
However, there is a lack of evidence that Liquid Trust will produce the desired effect in the real world, and Mr Linden has expressed skepticism that a room spray could deliver enough concentration of oxytocin to make an impact on behavior.
Other possible psychopharmaceuticals cited by Mr Linden include those that may one day interrupt or re-route the body's natural pleasure processes.
Such pills could therefore help end the cravings that lead to negative behaviors like smoking, drinking too much alcohol, taking illegal drugs or even over eating.
Mr Linden points to the current drug Naltrexone, which is thought to block the brain's opiod receptors for drugs like heroin and alcohol.
In other words, after taking Naltrexone, a user no longer feels the effect of the heroin or alcohol.
Could other future pharmaceuticals have even more significant effects on behaviors?
It's hard to say, but current research suggests the possibilities are substantial.
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