Love Drugs: The Chemical Future of Relationships (REVIEW)

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For the general public, MDMA is synonymous with raves and party culture; in the late 1970s, however, MDMA emerged as a therapeutic aid for psychoanalysts experimenting with psychedelic therapy. Leo Zeff, a Californian psychologist operating within Oakland’s underground network of drug-assisted therapy, popularized MDMA-assisted therapy after psychopharmacologist Alexander Shulgin introduced him to the substance following the illegalization of LSD in 1966. Within the span of 12 years, Zeff managed to administer MDMA to over 4,000 patients, a feat that would earn him the moniker “Secret Chief”.

MDMA would soon, however, see the same fate as LSD; in 1985, the DEA scheduled MDMA as a Schedule I drug due to its emerging popularity as a party drug with potentially toxic side effects. As a Scheduled Substance, medical research into empathogens like MDMA would now require special authorization.

Brian D. Earp and Julian Savulescu’s joint project, Love Drugs: The Chemical Future of Relationships returns MDMA and other empathogens to the therapist’s office. As ethicists, Earp and Savulescu’s arguments center around the bioethical considerations of using chemicals to improve human relationships. While the book flirts with the historical significance and physiological effects of both illegal and prescribed drugs, Love Drugs mostly concerns itself with the moral considerations of drug-assisted relationship therapy. Those looking for an in-depth examination of the biochemistry behind empathogens would do best to look elsewhere.

According to Earp and Savulescu, Western medicine’s biggest flaw is its “tendency to ignore the interpersonal effects of drug-based interventions.” In order to hash out such interpersonal effects, however, the duo offers a fascinating overview of the ethical and biological considerations fueling the argument over whether Homo sapiens is monogamous or polygamous. The ambiguous and subjective nature of love is also placed under the lens, with Earp and Savulescu using philosopher Carrie Jenkins “dual nature” of love as a framework for their critique. Jenkins’ “dual nature” approach asserts that love consists of “two fundamental aspects [the psychosocial and the biological] that go together to make love what it is, neither of which can be ignored.” With this model in mind, Earp and Savulescu stress the biological and psychological support needed to fulfill the requirements of a truly loving relationship.

More philosophy than science, Love Drugs is still a must-read for those interested in the recent revival in drug-assisted therapy.

After attempting to define the true definition of “love,” the duo then devote Love Drugs to the concrete world of drugs. For Earp and Savulescu, drugs are “just chemicals. . . specific chemicals that can be relatively easily taken into the body. . .which have some kind of physiological or psychological effect.” Love Drugs considers everything from traditional empathogens such as MDMA to prescription antidepressants and endogenous hormones as both love-assisting medications and, more interestingly, anti-attraction aids. Of course, with such considerations come a slew of issues surrounding pharmaceuticals including condition branding (the invention of conditions by companies to market new drugs) and the pathologization of human experience. The duo cite everything from sociological experiments to contemporary philosophers as they attempt to make the misleading and convoluted world of pharmaceuticals palpable and humanist.

More philosophy than science, Love Drugs is still a must-read for those interested in the recent revival in drug-assisted therapy. Earp and Savulescu’s partnership envisions a new era of human relations where the common pitfalls of love can be smoothed over with appropriate drug use. Neither an anti-drug propaganda piece nor an aimless legalization rant, Love Drugs aims to mediate the struggle between conservative drug regulations and human welfare through thoughtful and ethical consideration of the past, present, and future of drug-assisted therapies. If anything, Earp and Savulescu hope to illuminate how the drugs in our medicine cabinets and our club scene can be used for the better: “This book argues that we should study the implications not just the currently illicit drugs like MDMA but also of common legal prescription medications that are already affecting our relationships-only in ways we don’t fully recognize.”

WORDS: Aaron Tremper

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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