The term “Neuropharmocology” is difficult to pronounce and not easy to fully understand. That’s because it deals with using pharmaceuticals to affect the brain’s neuron transmissions. The neurons secrete chemicals that signal the brain as messages of what the senses perceive and how we feel. William Saffire said, “Just as we have anti-depressants today to elevate mood, tomorrow we can expect a kind of Botox for the brain to smooth out wrinkled temperaments, to turn shy people into extroverts or to bestow a sense of humor on a born grouch.” The field of neuropharmocology is rapidly expanding.
Treatment and Enhancement
The discipline of neuropharmocology pertains to both the diseased and the well individual. It works in both the well individual and the diseased by affecting mood, sensations, thinking and memory. The science addresses illnesses such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease through therapy with pharmaceuticals. There is a huge interest currently in developing drugs that treat Alzheimer’s and delay or stop the deterioration of memory and cognitive function that the illness brings. The drugs that are developed for many illnesses, however, have been found to be effective in well individuals for enhancement. Think of the pills that you might take to improve your information retention. Therapy-versus-enhancement is a controversial area of this science because, although no one would argue that therapeutic drugs are not useful, the function and nature of the brain is not fully understood and that opens many ethical issues.
New Frontier in Pharmacology
“Study.com” featured a story that discussed the new “smart drugs.” Also called designer drugs, these are the substances used for enhancement. The drugs are used in one of three areas: enhancing understanding and mood, enhancing memory and memory retrieval and blocking some memories.
Amphetamines, for instance, have been used to change the way individuals with ADD or ADHD behave, allowing them to retain more of what they are taught and stabilizing their moods. However, the side effects of many pharmaceuticals used in ADHD therapy make it imperative to develop new and safer drugs.
Ampakines stimulate memory and alertness and are increasingly useful in treating Alzheimer’s. Science is not content with developing new therapies, however. What if spritzing a nasal spray could turn a clinically healthy but very shy individual into a social butterfly? Well, it can. The name of the drug is Oxytocin and it helps people become less inhibited.
That is just a glimpse of the new frontier this science is opening: the study and development of new pharmaceuticals for therapy and for enhancement.
The Ethical Dilemma
With all that this pharmacology discipline can and does do for mankind, there are some issues of ethics. For one, the essence of the science—drugs that affect the moods and perceptions—makes the substances desirable and the drugs are widely abused, stressing medical and financial resources. Another issue is safety. Although we know that certain parts of the brain function to do certain things, we do not know how. In fact, there is much we don’t know about the brain. Is it safe to alter processes that we don’t understand?
Advances in the study of how chemical messages sent through the brain affect its functioning, along with technological advances in drug delivery mean that this science will yet surprise humans with new pharmaceuticals that will offer both therapy and enhancement. In spite of its history in treatment of mental illnesses and psychological conditions, Neuropharmocology is just beginning to touch the field of enhancing human lives.