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Open Access Highly Accessed Commentary

Enhancement drugs: are there limits to what we should enhance and why?

Morten Hesse

Author Affiliations

University of Aarhus, Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research, Artillerivej 90, 2nd 2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark

BMC Medicine 2010, 8:50  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-8-50

Published: 3 August 2010


Substances, such as alcohol, opiates and cannabis, have been used by humans for millennia. Today, a much wider range of substances are used for a range of purposes, including the enhancement of performance during university studies, sexual experiences, sports, exercise, at celebrations, socializing and the experience of art and music. Substance use is also associated with a range of harmful effects to the individual and society as a whole. Prohibitions, regulation, prevention and treatment have all been used to protect against this harm. In this commentary, it is argued that public health interventions should target relevant harms and not to evaluate which aspects of human endeavors and experiences should be enhanced and which should not. It is argued that interventions should directly target the harmful effects, using the best available evidence. Two examples are given of substances that may be altered to prevent serious harm - one for alcohol and one for cannabis. In the case of alcohol, the addition of dissolved oxygen could reduce both the risk of accidents and the risk of liver damage associated with alcohol consumption. In the case of cannabis, there is strong indication that the reduction of content Δ-tetrahydrocannabinol and the increase of cannabidiol could reduce the risk of psychoses and the addiction associated with its use. The aim of this article is to show that responsible regulation should not necessarily be restricted to preventing the use and/or (in the case of alcohol) a reduction in the amounts and frequency of its use, but should also aim to include a range of other strategies that could reduce the burden of illness associated with illicit substance use.