Saturday, September 30, 2006

Mind Drugs

For some years, I have had a book manuscript dealing with the consequences of possible technological changes over the next few decades up on the web collecting comments. I now have a publisher for it and am working on a revision for publication.

Most of the book is written, but there is still one missing chapter–on mind drugs. I expect it to divide into three categories:

1. Recreational drugs. These have a long history; the issues they raise are not new. Presumably progress in the relevant technologies, including understanding of how the mind works, will produce improved versions, drugs that give more pleasure with fewer risks.

2. Enhancement drugs. A few of these have existed in the past, with coffee and Coca leaves obvious examples. Currently some drugs, including Ritalin, are used by students taking exams to temporarily enhance their performance. I gather that modafinil drastically reduces the need for sleep and is said to be used by the military for that purpose. Physical enhancement drugs–steroids–have gotten quite a lot of negative attention, although I have not seen any thoughtful discussions of what, if anything, is wrong with using them.

It seems likely that over the next decade or two better such drugs will become available, for temporary and (perhaps) permanent improvement of mental performance. What interesting consequences are likely to result?

3. Control drugs. This is the interesting and scary category, so far mostly limited to fiction. What happens if there is a drug you can feed someone, perhaps without his knowledge, that will make him temporarily credulous, willing to believe what you tell him? A drug that will make him obedient? A drug that will make her fall in love with you or him feel loyal to you? All of these are real behavior patterns, presumably connected in part to brain chemistry–and we are becoming better chemists.

There are a few hints of such things already. Ecstasy is said to make users temporarily empathetic; empathy might make you more willing to believe someone's story of why he needs help, and provide it. Oxytocin seems to have some effects on trust, sexual bonding, maternal behavior; perhaps an engineered drug could provide similar results of a stronger and more controllable sort. Insects respond sexually to pheromones and there is now a little evidence of similar effects in humans; what perfume manufacturers have long claimed might turn out to be true. And of course knockout drugs from chloral hydrate to rohypnol–a very crude sort of behavior control—have a long and dishonorable history in fiction and fact.

The purpose of this post is to ask for help with my unwritten chapter. What facts don't I know that I should that are relevant to the development of mind drugs over the next few decades? What non-obvious consequences are worth thinking about and how might they be dealt with? Will we, for instance, expand the "absence of duress" requirement in contracts to make a contract unenforceable unless both parties submitted to suitable blood tests immediately before signing, to make sure that neither was acting under undue chemical influence?


Anonymous said...

It's interesting to note that the really powerful drugs, the ones that can radically change one's experience of the world, were invented long ago. Heroin ("the non-addictive substitute for morphine!) was invented in 1912, though it was just a variation on a theme of opioids, which had been around since ancient times (poppies). Ecstacy was patented in the same year as heroin was, though it took a while for it to be "re-discovered" by Shulgin. LSD in 1938 by Albert Hofmann. Of the stimulants, coca's been around forever; amphetamine was invented before 1900. The dissociatives PCP and ketamine were invented in the 60s.

Since then, though, and someone correct me if I'm wrong, not much has happened. Some drugs invented before have come to the fore, but in terms of honest-to-god drug development, just refinements on the drugs of yore (coke to crack, etc.).

Further, the "latest and greatest" in terms of "trust spray" oxytocin and the "love drug" PT-141 have effects which are incredibly subtle on the mind. So subtle as to be unnoticeable, really.

Consequently, if we used what has (not) happened in the last 30 years to extrapolate 30 years out, we might say that nothing will happen in terms of "mind drug" development. I do hope this forecast is wrong, however!

Anonymous said...

Modafinil--or more likely a superior successor drug--might me the most revolutionary invention since the lightbulb.

Electric lights freed people from nature time rhythms. It used to be that when the sun went down, the day was over. A few people did significant work after dark, and there were candles and kerosene if you were in a pinch, but for the most part, your life was defined by the rising and setting of the sun.

Now imagine a future world where sleep is optional, or can be reduced to once a week, with no harmful side effects. What would you do with a 50% increase in your waking time? Will people work 16 hour days? Will wars be fought by nonstop soldiers, artificially kept awake for days or even months on end (a premise of an X-Files episode). Perhaps sleeplessness will be the norm, and the few who eschew drugs will have to schedule their lives around the mainstream, much like Orthodox Jews who don't work on the Sabbath must seek special accomodation from employers, governments, etc.


Anonymous said...

More important than innovations in the drugs themselves is the delivery system. Pharmacy chips, integrated circuits capable of injecting drugs into the bloodstream, are probably the answer.

The electrodes used in Michael Crichton’s ‘Terminal Man’ chip only had a binary operation; it was off or it was supplying a negative feedback shock. In that novel, the implant responded to only one variable, the strength of a patient’s seizure, to which the device theoretically countered with a shock of euphoria. To spoil the ending, this pleasurable feedback only provided incentives for more seizures, and the patient went mad.

Anyway, pharmacy chips wouldn't have to react that way, as they could process more and provide an array of different drugs.

For terms of parole/furlough, a pharmacy chip inserted in a convict may have a biosensor that detects violent emotions, and can trigger emasculating chemicals, followed by self-correcting chemicals as the episode passes.

By sensing and treating different conditions, one could imagine the chip could restrict blood flow and cause erectile dysfunction if the subject were sexually aggressive, then reverse course later. Say, if they wanted to give the subject an erection every time he saw Big Brother delivering an edict on the big screen. ^_^

Anonymous said...

After the siege of Dubrovka Theater in Moscow in October, 2002, it was discussed that certain places with high concentration of people should be equipped, in addition to a fire-extinguishing system, with a system that, when activated, releases a gas that knocks everybody out and/or dramatically reduces visibility in the optical range in a very short time to preempt hostage taking terrorist attacks (of course, it would also call law enforcement and ambulance).
It should have, the suggestion goes, many activation points, like fire alarms, but have a different activation mechanism (e.g. pulling a lever or pushing a button vs. breaking a glass membrane) and a different color (green vs. red).
It does not render such attacks impossible, but significantly raises (in concert with other measures) the costs of successful ones both in skill and equipment.

I, for one, do not think that this is a sane thing to do for a multitude of reasons, but I think it is still worth sharing for the sake of the book.

PS: When and how can we buy the book? Its manuscript was the primary inspiration for the project I am currently working on!

Anonymous said...

For some reason, people uniformly prefer higher risks but being in control to some extent versus lower risks but not being in control at all.

For instance, in the beginning of WW2 in Russia there were not enough rifles for all infantryman. Infantry charges were part of the soldiers were unarmed happened often in 1941 (but not in 1942, as completely falsely portrayed in the Hollywood movie "Enemy at the Gates"). Now, it is well supported by statistics (and was relatively well-known among soldiers despite the strict orders not to divulge relevant stats) that unarmed soldiers had a significantly higher chance of survival (Germans would rather shoot at those with a rifle, if they were able to choose). Yet, there was a very very strong preference among these soldiers for having a rifle, which is only partially explained by heroism and hatred of the enemy.

This is relevant in that this human trait severely limits any defensive use of knock-out drugs where both the attacker and the defender are knocked out, despite the fact that it may be well safer for the defender.

I do not have a convincing economic explaination for this seemingly irrational human trait, but it is incredibly strong and I observe it even in myself. This is what made people jump out of the windows on 9/11/2001. My friend was once in a skyscraper during an earthquake and she told me that there's an incredibly strong urge "to do something", even jumping out of the window.

David Friedman said...

Daniel asks:

"When and how can we buy the book? "

The contract gives me, I think, two years to deliver a final manuscript! My actual intention is to hand in the finished manuscript this summer, after teaching the seminar it grew out of one more time. Given the usual publishing lags, my guess is it will be out about a year after that.

Matt said...

Greg Egan's Science Fiction is very interesting reading on the subject of mind altering drugs (and in general - it's good stuff). He has a book of short stories called Axiomatic, in which the first story to explore mind drugs is 'The Caress'. If you can find a copy, give it a read.

Anonymous said...


For the final section on control drugs I would recomend looking into the history of LSD which was originally designed and experimented with to be used as a truth syrum in wartime. The original experimentors had a difficult time in conceptualizing a functional application for the truth syrum purpose but thought the drug could have a number of psychotherapeutic uses.

Also I would recomend the following passage from Hayek's Constitution of Liberty p216

"The problem assumes the greatest importance when we consider that we are probably only at the threshold of an age in which the technological possibilities of mind control are likely to grow rapidly and what may appear at first as innocuous or beneficial powers over the personality of the individual will be at the disposal of government. The greatest threats to human freedom probably still lie in the future. The day may not be far off when authority, by adding appropriate drugs to our water supply or by some other similar device, will be able to elate or depress, stimulate or paralyze the minds of whole populations for its own purposes. If bills of rights are to remain in any way meaningful, it must be recognized early that their intention was certainly to protect the individual against all vital infringements of his liberty and that therefore they must be presumed to contain a general clause protecting against government’s interference those immunities which individuals in fact have enjoyed in the past."

Mike Hammock said...

Suppose that one had a drug (or drugs) that encouraged truthfulness and trust. As a playful aside, might a contract require the use of such a drug by both parties?

Anonymous said...

Control drugs, there is of course GHB, aka rape drug but also and more trivially alcohol...
Our civilization is shaped on a Judeo-Christian mentality, we are under the impression that we need to suffer to obtain something good. In general, this mentality is actually not bad at all, it does a really good job explaining the world, but it has its failures. According to it such a thing as "diet" pop-drinks would be impossible... This explains the original distrust against sugar-free sugar, new technologies, drugs, GMO etc. Yes drugs generally have negative side effects, but they are probably exagerated by this bias. A purely positive drug is theoretically possible but would be met with suscpicion and probably outlawed.

Anonymous said...

re: "Absence of Duress"

I think it much more likely that the courts will adopt a rule that a contract is presumptively valid, and the party laboring under the influence of the drug will have to show something akin to fraud or duress in order to excuse performance.

It is unlikely that a court will allow the non-drugged party to take advantage of the drugged party when the former knew, or reasonably should have known, of the latter's intoxication.

I think it equally unlinkely that a court will excuse performance under a contract where the non drugged party had no actual or constructive knowledge of the drugged party's impaired state.

Having said this, courts will probably allow people under the influence of "control drugs" to enter into some contracts even if the other party knows of the intoxication; contracts for the one-time purchase of necessities such as food and water, for instance.

The very interesting questions, I think, come from criminal law. Is a person on "Mind Control Drug X" capable of forming the requisite mens rea? What if the intoxication is voluntary? Must he then take responsibility for his operator's directives? What if he qualifies as insane under M'Naghten? (I'm in CA)

Also, will legislators have to submit to regular drug tests? (HA!) How long will the drug be detectable in the human sustem? Will it further muddle rape trials? Will the government, at some level, use it during interrogations? (Of course) Will its application be punished the same as any other violation of personal consent? (Example: potentially making a "voluntary" compainion a kidnap or false impisonment or even rape victim instead of a mere victim of involuntary intoxication)

My guess is that all the questions you could possibly come up with will form a gordian knot which congress will slice through with draconian "Mind Control Drugs Possession" laws. (I hope "draconian" doesn't make that a mixed metaphor. "Alexandrine" just doesn't work.)

Those are my thoughts. God, your blog is great.

Anonymous said...

Category 2:
Besides reducing the need for sleep, modafinil is something of a smart drug.

Beta-blockers block the fear response. Sometimes used by performers with stage fright. Some interesting possibilities there.

Category 3:
Anti-psychotics might be useful in breaking down someone's existing beliefs. Suggest searching for first-hand accounts by doctors of trying out anti-psychotics on themselves.

Anonymous said...

Becker and Posner had a post not so long ago analizing the use of steroids in sports.

Crosbie Fitch said...

Beware of the social engineer's pressure for normal citizens, the classification of antisocial behaviour as a mental illness.

Check out Thomas Szasz:

Beware of the requirement by the state that antisocial or abnormal behaviour be 'cured' by ever more effective drugs.

Anonymous said...

Electric lights freed people from nature time rhythms. It used to be that when the sun went down, the day was over. A few people did significant work after dark, and there were candles and kerosene if you were in a pinch, but for the most part, your life was defined by the rising and setting of the sun.

Of course the increase in productivity did not come in the form of people freely choosing to work longer hours, but instead they were pressured to work longer hours by capitalist bosses, who derived most of the productivity gain.

Now imagine a future world where sleep is optional, or can be reduced to once a week, with no harmful side effects. What would you do with a 50% increase in your waking time? Will people work 16 hour days?

No doubt if the capitalist class can determine a way to boost worker productivity at the expense of worker health and quality of life they will do it, and people will accept it.

Physical enhancement drugs–steroids–have gotten quite a lot of negative attention, although I have not seen any thoughtful discussions of what, if anything, is wrong with using them.

Then you haven't thought about the issue for more than 5 seconds. Aside from the health issues (the evidence doesn't seem very clear, although there are potential side effects), their use would render all professional sports meaningless (clue: that translates to "unprofitable" in your capitalist-speak). Nobody wants to pay to watch a race between a runner and a bicycler, or watch a race between a boater and a swimmer. Even if all athletes had the same access to steroids, their effects and duration on individuals would be both diverse and powerful. The whole point of organized sports is for comptetition between people whose only inequality is the mental and physical conditions surrounding their youth and and development, not between groups of people binging on drugs and groups of people training honestly and dilligently.

What happens if there is a drug you can feed someone, perhaps without his knowledge, that will make him temporarily credulous, willing to believe what you tell him?

I wouldn't worry about it. The population is already so docile and obedient to elites in our society, both private and public, through the education system. I for one predict that if such a drug became available, then only the wealthy or the governing classes would own it, and they would use it for their own purposes. Governments would use them to correct "mentally ill" and "unstable" people with "dangerous ideas". And instead of people meekly submitting to capitalist bosses like they do now, they would worship capitalist bosses as gods.

Anonymous said...

For an interesting perspective, read Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley.

It features a drug known as Soma, which basically makes people happy. In one scene it is fired as a gas out of hoses to control a riot.

Anonymous said...

A perfect truth serum is not necessarily a bad thing. It doesn't necessarily have to have submissive side-effects.

Also, it doesn't necessarily have to force people to tell the truth. It just has to be able to prove that they lied (maybe if you lie, it makes you laugh or something as you can't help but find any lie extremely funny .. it could even force you to laugh if someone else says something you know to be a untrue).

Being able to prove that you aren't lying can be useful in some situations.

For example, an innocent being tried for murder, could prove innocence. Likewise, you could say that you intend to honour a contract and that you are unaware of any hidden clauses that the other party might object to.

One issue would be if it was linked to torture. The torturer could know when to stop (and more to the point when not to) as they would know that you are lying.

So, the "perfect" truth serum would be one which makes it impossible for you to conceal that you are lying, but also has some way to prevent torture being used. Maybe it also acts as a perfect pain killer as well .. and also doesn't work if the person fears that they are about to die (as that is certainly not funny)

Andrew said...

Drugs and treatments that damage the body if used over the long term are the ones which are typically banned.

For example, the reason that blood doping is banned is that it has caused the death of several pro cyclists, and is presumed to be the cause of death for many more (it thickens your blood, but increases your chance of early heart attack drastically).

Drugs which are generally beneficial to health are typically allowed, and eventually will trickle down to non-athletes.

Anonymous said...

Check out Sasha Shulgin's books and articles.

Anonymous said...

I think you'll find the history of GHB quite interesting. There was already a reference here to GHB, "the date rape drug", but there is quite a bit more to it than that.

There are some nootropics on the market right now with debatable effects. These include Acetyl-L-Carnitine Arginate, Sulbutiamine, Theanine, Piracetam, etc.

And no mention of good old weed in this thread? Maybe everyone here forgot. No other drug increase a persons ability to eat an entire bag of cheetos or watch the history channel for an entire day!

Anonymous said...

Truth serum? Concentrating on a means, rather than an end.

Truth is merely an oppinion based on an individuals relevant experience applied to a theoretical base.

So in seeking the truth, are we chasing the agreeable, drooling idiot? Or, more the likely, are we searching for a rational opinion from the individual?

I think the distinction must be made, as obviously the means to both will be different. Maybe we should be searching for a fact serum...

Anonymous said...

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