Sat. Apr 20th, 2019

The dream of a pill to be happy | Science

The dream of a pill to be happy | Science



"I'm ridiculously happy," he explained last week Jo Cameron to this newspaper. If Obelix fell in the pot of magic potion as a child, this 71-year-old British woman was born directly into the pot. Because of two genetic mutations, in your brain there are very high concentrations of endogenous cannabinoids, natural substances with effects similar to those of marijuana. Cameron is unable to feel pain. And, in addition, he took a 0 out of 21 in a questionnaire to assess his anxiety and a 0 out of 29 in another about depression.

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The unusual case of Jo Cameron puts on the table to what extent the human sensations are mere electrochemical reactions and, therefore, manipulable. The question arises naturally: Can you create a kind of happiness pill?

"Much of what we consider happiness has biological components. And those components are a potential target for chemical treatments or with electrical impulses. I would not be surprised if in the future we could have a biological-induced sense of well-being, "he replies. Eduard Vieta, head of the Psychiatry and Psychology service of the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona.

"There are already drugs that provide well-being, but with addictions you have ephemeral happiness and a very long-lasting unhappiness," warns the psychiatrist Eduard Vieta.

Vieta has in mind the soma, the drug that everyone consumes in the novel A happy world, published by the British writer Aldous Huxley in 1931. "At present the progress is such that the elderly work, the elderly cooperate, the elderly do not have time or leisure that they can not fill with pleasure, not a single moment to sit down and think ", tells the book. "And if unfortunately some time slit in the solid substance of its distractions opens up, there is always the soma, the delicious soma, half a gram for a holiday afternoon, a gram for a weekend, two grams for a trip to the city. beautiful East, three for a dark eternity on the moon. "

"There are already drugs that provide well-being, such as morphine. The trouble is that today, with addictions, you have an ephemeral happiness and a very lasting unhappiness, "warns Vieta, also scientific director of the Center for Biomedical Research in Mental Health Network. "But I think that, theoretically, it is possible to find methods to induce a welfare state without being indoctrinated as in A happy world"He says.

Other experts are much more skeptical, like Joanna Moncrieff, Professor of Psychiatry, University College London. A decade ago, he published the book The myth of the chemical cure: a critique of psychiatric pharmacological treatment. "We have a too optimistic view of what drugs can do. We believe that they can imitate states normal, but they rarely do it. In contrast, medications that affect the brain generally make us less sensitive to the world around us, particularly other people. Let's think about how alcohol affects people, "says Moncrieff.

"Negative emotions help us learn, they are very important in decision-making", warns anthropologist Marta Miret

The psychiatrist recalls that there are already many substances that make people feel good, such as cocaine, ecstasy, heroin and diazepam, better known as Valium. "But this is not happiness. Like many philosophers, I agree with Aristotle that happiness comes from living a satisfying life, so, in my opinion, it will never be achieved by manipulating the body or the brain with chemicals or other means, "ditch Moncrieff.

Two years ago, an investigation with more than 50,000 people of nine countries showed that their level of satisfaction with their own lives influenced their health more than the emotions they experienced in their day to day. "Happiness is a construct. The idea of ​​a pill of happiness belongs to a model of biomedical thinking, to the medicalization of life, "he says. Marta Miret, co-author of that study and anthropologist at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

The British Jo Cameron says that, not feeling pain, it often burns in the kitchen and does not find out until it smells of burned flesh. "Negative emotions help us learn. They are very important in making decisions. Not feeling pain, whether physical or emotional, has many negative consequences, "says Miret.

The brain is an organ of barely a kilo and a half, but with 86,000 million neurons and with billions of connections between them. "It is tremendously complex. A case like that of Jo Cameron can appear among more than 7,000 million people, "reflects the neuroscientist Francesc Artigas, of the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona. "The brain, in addition, is a tremendously plastic organ," he warns. MDMA (ecstasy) pills, for example, "release serotonin and dopamine and generate a pharmacological happiness, but if you keep taking it, you need a higher dose each time to have the same effect."

According to Artigas, the answer to the question of whether we will ever have a happiness pill is very simple: "No". The alternative, perhaps, is in the verses that a character of A happy world: "Hug me until I'm drunk with love, kiss me until I'm in a coma; embrace me, love, come to me; love is as good as soma. "

Ecstasy in hospitals

In the search for artificial paradises, the American Rick Doblin It is a world authority. In 1986, he founded the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies, a Californian organization that funds scientific research on the possible medical uses of psychedelic drugs and marijuana. "MDMA stimulates the release of hormones and neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, which are associated with moods and positive feelings and the creation of social ties," explains Doblin. "I do not know if it will be possible to have a pill that induces happiness, but I can anticipate that by 2021 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will approve a psychotherapy with MDMA as a prescription treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder," points out

"It changed my life," he assured this newspaper in 2016 Jonathan Lubecky, a 40-year-old man who was stationed in Iraq as a US Army soldier and tried therapy. "If I had not followed that treatment, I would have killed myself. Before, I had had five suicide attempts, "said Lubecky. The clinical trials achieved that 68% of the 107 participants were discharged from their post-traumatic stress disorder after three sessions of psychotherapy with MDMA, according to the figures of the association.

Now, the MAPS organization is recruiting about 300 volunteers for a final phase of his trials with MDMA. The tests will take place in research centers in the US, Israel and Canada. "The beneficial and therapeutic effects of MDMA were discovered in the mid-1970s. MDMA has already been used in secret as a therapeutic tool by some psychologists," recalls Doblin.

"These effects, combined with the support of trained therapists, help people with post-traumatic stress disorder process their painful memories, integrate the lessons they learned from those experiences and move on with their lives instead of being trapped in the past. ", Celebrates the MAPS president. His organization has raised about 44 million dollars since its founding in 1986. The big pharmaceutical companies, according to Doblin, are not interested in trying possible therapies with MDMA, because the patent has already expired.

If, finally, the FDA approves its use, MDMA will not be a drug available in pharmacies, but a drug administered in hospitals under the strict supervision of doctors, emphasizes Doblin.

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