Biohacking and You
How People are Taking Medicine into their own Hands
The 21st century is here and though we have inherited some of the technological marvels that were predicted, many and more are still in the distant future. We have our cordless communicators (cellphones), and remote navigation and directions (map apps), and even our version of the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy (Wikipedia). The future, however, is looking more cyberpunk by the day, and perhaps nowhere is that more clear than with the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.
Workers in countries like the US can expect to shell out thousands for insurance, and still receive hefty bills when they go to the doctor or the hospital. In other countries, promising new cures are held up by bureaucracy or corruption, sometimes due to the same corporate powers mucking up the works, or withholding discoveries due to lack of profitability, or perhaps just plain incompetence. There’s also the issue of potentially addictive and dangerous drugs being released to market, specifically because they’ll be money makers.
But as biochemist Hamilton Morris has remarked, it’s all too easy to demonize pharmaceutical companies. After all, it has long been known that opioids are addictive, but many of us were still eager to try those fun new pills from the dentist. A better example than opioids might be insulin, whose price has spiked to enormous heights over the years despite it’s simplicity and necessity for diabetics. Yet the idea of home-brew insulin has never become popular or widely accepted, though biohackers are now working on it. The image of a person tinkering with chemistry equipment at home is associated with criminals, not with people who need an affordable solution to their medical woes — even if the intent is pure or scientific. Once, chemistry kits were given to children so they could learn. Now, they’re seen as a gateway to a criminal livelihood. Why is there this stigma against citizen science?
In some sense the issue is a big one: a societal and cultural mindset. The war on drugs is currently unpopular, but in the past it had wide support even among some minority communities. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely racist motivations for the drug war, but some of the intentions behind it go all the way back to our puritanical ancestors. In a sense, our healthcare battle is not just chemical and economic, but also philosophical. The question is: how much control should people have over what they put into their bodies?
Interestingly, this is one question that progressives, libertarians, and others have a common answer to: we should have near-total control, and we should have access to information and resources to help us make responsible decisions. This is not to say we should remove pharmacies, dispensaries, doctors, and scientists from the equation. Of course not — they’re the ones making discovering and helping keep us informed. But this sentiment, along with healthcare difficulties and frustrations with puritanical rules about drugs (and even basic medicine), is leading many people down the road to biohacking.
What is biohacking? Also called DIY biology, or DIY medicine, it is a broad term that refers to making deliberate changes to the human body, usually beyond just diet and exercise. For some, this means using compounds and supplements to ward off aging or cure disease — a topic which I will explore in the next post. For others, this includes insertion of microchips or other electronics into the body. No, I’m not referring to the conspiracies about Bill Gates and the vaccine. Rather, people are trying to enhance their senses with magnets and sensors or create human machines interfaces, like something from old anime movies and video games like Deus Ex. One can make a broad list of the things that are being tried:
- Using supplements and nootropics to clear up brain fog
- Treating chronic fatigue, pain, or digestive issues with supplements and peptides
- Tweaking diets, either to be paleo, keto, vegetarian, or vegan, while also getting the nutrition from protein powders, amino acids, and vitamins.
- The much maligned practice of injecting hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone, as done by athletes and body builders
- Harnessing kratom to wean away opioid addiction
- Treating pain with CBD, THC, and cannabis oils
- Using electronics to monitor health and bodily activity (e.g. Fitbits, fancy watches, or custom circuits)
- Creating homemade tinctures and teas from medicinal mushrooms and herbs
- And testing their genetics or bodily functions with kits available online
Perhaps it’s frightening that people are taking medicine into our own hands, but there’s also an opportunity for expanded freedom, new discoveries, and treatments. In the case of insulin, where biohackers are working to produce and distribute it cheaply and safely, there’s also a hope to help struggling, working class people. And regardless of how scientists or lawmakers feel about it, it’s happening already. The future of medicine is quickly developing, and it’s looking like one where more and more options are available to curious individuals.
In part two of this piece, I’ll go into some of the treatments I’ve investigated, how they appear to be helping people online, and how one can learn more about them. For now, good luck to those who are trying to help themselves, and make sure to do your research.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor and this is not medical advice.