Devices & Diagnostics

The future of drug abuse: Neuromodulation?

Neuromodulation can help control pain and mood – so why not hijack the technology for illicit use? Drug lords are interested.

Electroceuticals and the brain/machine interface are being cited as some of the most promising new frontiers in medicine. However, in this era burgeoning biohackery, a stunning new group of stakeholders are taking interest in such neuromodulation: Drug traffickers.

Implantable electrical devices are being studied for their ability to change nerve and brain chemistry – impacting mood disorders, pain and many other diagnoses. But there’s interest in using these technologies to alter what’s now the illicit drug experience, as Vice writes:

If scientists can get a brain implant to give neural stimuli that affects our perspectives, moods, and behaviors, then the future of drugs could be totally different than what it is now. In fact, in such a future, drug creation would become the domain of engineers and coders. This could become the next major frontier of the so-called drug market.

Bear in mind, the piece is written by Zoltan Istvan, “a futurist and the U.S. Presidential candidate of the Transhumanist Party.”  But the concept holds water – particularly as we find our EHRs under constant threat from hackers. In a future where neuromodulation is pegged to be big, there will indubitably be less savory applications of this technology as well. What fun!

He speculates on using brain implant biohacking to develop a sex chip, for instance – “you might use your smartphone to purchase an hour of sexual ecstasy.” Why not?

Fundamentally, the reason implants will probably be the “drug” of choice over plant or chemical substances is because of this type of possible perfect control. One could program it so chips could never overdose people—whereas a problem people always have with drugs is quality. People never really know what they’re getting until after they’ve taken it—and then they can’t stop it. With plants or something made in an illegal laboratory like LSD, it’s always a crapshoot to know what you’re getting, the quality of it, and especially where it came from. With chips and downloads, there would always be a digital trail and signal to follow.

The Food and Drug Administration is in the midst of tightening diagnostics regulations – and finding it a drawn out process. Perhaps it had better get cracking on electroceutical abuse.

[Image courtesy of St. Jude Medical]