People can be mean. If only there was a pill that made people be kinder to one another. If you’ve ever been on a little place called the internet you may have noticed sometimes it’s a bubbling cauldron of festering impotent rage. Some people just need to take a chill pill, and now scientists have discovered that a pill already used to treat Parkinson will increase someone’s level of chillness. Scientists from UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco recently brought in 35 participants and had half take a placebo and the rest take a drug called tolcapone.
Tolcapone is already being used to treat Parkinson by prolonging the effects of dopamine, which is a hormone and neurotransmitter commonly associated with pleasure and reward. Then they had participants play a game where they divided money between themselves and a stranger. At the end of the double blind study the researchers noticed people on Tolcapone tended to divide the money more fairly than the people who took the sugar pill. They concluded that just by increasing dopamine with a pill we can make people treat each other better. And thus all the world’s problems were solved.
First off there’s the problem of possible side effects. The thing about dopamine is it’s addictive as all get out. Like I said, dopamine is associated with pleasure and reward. It’s a big part of what makes Facebook so addictive. When you see you got a like or a comment, your brain rewards you with a little dopamine, you feel good, and then you’re hooked. Yes, Mark Zuckerberg is basically the biggest drug dealer in history Parkinson patients sometimes become addicted to their own medication, or develop new addictive behaviors like compulsive gambling, shopping, or hyper sexuality. So taking a drug that keeps dopamine from being broken down in your prefrontal cortex can have some gnarly unintended consequences.
There’s also the issue of what this means for us as human beings. Should you take a pill that changes your behavior? There are some instances where I say absolutely yes. Particularly with depression, where a common problem is people don’t want to take their medication because it feels like “cheating.” But just to make yourself a little nicer? It’s a great point to add to the philosophical discussion on human nature, but I’m not a philosophy guy. I’m a science guy. And I just don’t know.