Could a great big smile be a chemical thing? Say cheese!
No stress, calm feelings in large crowds, creative thoughts and a general feeling of bliss and well-being: Pharmaceutical companies are working hard to produce exactly that in the shape of a tablet.
Following up on the success of antidepressants, the companies are now researching how to make a pill for people that are healthy, which will not only reduce depression but also actually produce happiness.
“The current antidepressants are the platform,” explained associate professor Claus Moeldrup, of the Institute of Pharmacology at the University of Copenhagen.
“You test and mix the antidepressants to see how they influence healthy people. And a lot indicates that people without depression may also be able to benefit from that kind of pill,” he said.
His research shows that people in the Western world generally would like medication that will make them happier, smarter and improve their lives, even when they are fit and healthy.
“It is the pharmaceutical equivalent of healthy people undergoing cosmetic surgery. They are improving something, not curing a disease,” Moeldrup said. “Pharmaceuticals that can improve the capacity of your brain will be a huge market in the future. They will give you an advantage, for instance on your job, so you can perform better than colleagues.”
But scientifically, researchers and experts are far from agreed on whether these happy pills are ethical. There will be side effects, the medication will not be available to everyone and some experts find that the whole idea of providing healthy people with medication is immoral. Their main point is that if you use medicine to improve the performance of healthy people, it’s doping. And that stands, whether that performance is for the Tour de France or a Nobel Prize.
But those who favour using medicine to a larger extent say, for example, if a researcher can think better and more clearly, then he could possibly invent something that could save the lives of millions. And if a new pill will make people happier and more satisfied with their lives, why should they not be allowed to feel so?
“It is a never-ending story — where you draw the borderline between health and disease,” said chief consultant Allan Skaarup from LIF, the Danish Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry.
Experts dare not predict exactly when — if ever — happy pills will be available to the general public.