Nature Editor-in-Chief’s changed mind on enhancement drugs for healthy people

philip campbellPhilip Campbell, the open editor-in-chief of Nature was asked by John Brockman under the cover of the 2008 Edge Annual Question: WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT? WHY?

Campbell writes in his thoughtful answer:

“I’ve changed my mind about the use of enhancement drugs by healthy people. A year ago, if asked, I’d have been against the idea, whereas now I think there’s much to be said for it.”

Before citing further the argument of Campbell I’d like to remind the analogous problems of biotechnological life extension products targeted for healthy people in a “normal” physiologic state. Good example are the resveratrol-like but more effective sirtuin activators with a probably positive healthy lifespan extension effects developed by David Sinclair and his group at Sirtris. The trick is to market Sirtuin activators as anti-diabetes drugs, or find other registered diseases to target with the drugs. According to Mass High Tech:

“Aging is not a disease to the FDA,” Sirtris co-founder Christoph Westphal said, so Sirtris is focusing on drugs to treat ailments of old age.

With this story in our changed and future focused mind it is very promising to read for healthy life extension supporters what Campbell, a mainstream academic science representative has to say on cognitive enhancement drugs:

New cognitive enhancing drugs are being developed, officially for therapy. And the therapeutic importance — both current and potential — of such drugs is indeed significant. But manufacturers won’t turn away the significant revenues from illegal use by the healthy.

That word ‘illegal’ is the rub. Off-prescription use is illegal in the United States, at least. But that illegality reflects an official drugs culture that is highly questionable. It’s a culture in which the Food and Drugs Administration seems reluctant generally to embrace the regulation of enhancement for the healthy, though it is empowered to do so. It is also a culture that is rightly concerned about risk but wrongly founded in the idea that drugs used by healthy people are by definition a Bad Thing. That in turn reflects instinctive attitudes to do with ‘naturalness’ and ‘cheating on yourself’ that don’t stand up to rational consideration. Perhaps more to the point, they don’t stand up to behavioral consideration, as Viagra has shown.

Research and societal discussions are necessary before cognitive enhancement drugs should be made legally available for the healthy, but I now believe that that is the right direction in which to head.

4 thoughts on “Nature Editor-in-Chief’s changed mind on enhancement drugs for healthy people

  1. i am looking for information on mind enhancement drugs i had a partial heart attack and i can no longer focus as i used too would like to correct problem by using mind boosting drugs. can write to me at the corresponding email site.

  2. December 12, 2008
    As an afterthought over comments of Mr.Campbell and Mr.Norberto on the topic of mind-boosting drugs,I remember my student days about 40-45 years ago when I had used Ayurveda’s herbs : BRAHMI and SHANKHPUSHPI, both plant-based and avaiable as syrupy liquids, prior to my examinations.Both herbs enhance memory and concentration and my own perception is that they have a cooling effect on one’s brain.Their efficacy has been proved over thousands of years of use and today they are readily available everywhere in India.They come very cheap,are harmless and available as OTC,as powder,tablet,syrup and formulations.

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