I'm trying to evaluate the effectiveness of a hypothetical research institute developing a drug (or testing existing candidates) that chemically increases subjective wellbeing in healthy people (“giving everybody a drug that makes them 20% happier”), and I’d like your input.

As far as I'm impressed, current EA discussions on the matter of improving subjective wellbeing in healthy population try to either solve it from a therapeutic standpoint or from a transhumanist standpoint (eg. gene modification), and I think the chemical approach[1] is somewhere in the middle - trying to modify people's biological functionality but with existing (or nearly-existing) technologies and in a reversible manner. 

I’ve been looking into this lately and have found relatively little informative materials[2]. For example, I’m particularly interested in the following questions:

  1. How promising are the existing candidate substances: psychedelic microdosing, antidepressants, variants of MDMA, etc.
    1. Michael Plant's drug policy reform proposal may be a strongly correlated cause in this context.
  2. Policy risk: to my understanding, western ethics committees review drug trials in a manner that does not allow for drug development for any other purpose other than prevention or treatment of illness. Thus, do we expect sanctions on researchers who would conduct human trials with experimental substances on perfectly healthy people? Will the trials need to be done in loosely regulated countries? I would suspect this to be similar to contemporary psychedelic research but am not familiar with the constraints there.
  3. Psychological risk of a chemical approach: I am not sure how contemporary research views the risks involved with dependency on a substance for wellbeing - eg. to what extent are unhealthy belief effects expected to emerge?

I’d be interested in any resources that explore this topic of chemically improving subjective wellbeing in healthy population. 



  1. ^

    David Pierce has written a lot on this topic from a philosophical point of view.

  2. ^

    and lots of references to Brave New World’s “Soma” :)




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Very interesting! +1!

My initial thought is that there is already a TON of demand for this, both in terms of money, and many people personally caring about it, and it being a cool high status project, so I expect this area isn't neglected.

What do you think?

I suspect this is a case of strong limitations in the medical establishment's philosophy, causing legal issues and lack of motivation to research the subject seriously.

If we take this further - you'd expect more research into genetic engineering for a permanent abolishment of human suffering, since everybody wants to be happy, right? But I'm not familiar with any mainstream research on the subject.

My claim is

  1. If someone would create this, they'd make a TON of money
  2. This is known
  3. So people tried lots of things already

Do you think 3 is wrong because it would cause the researcher to have legal issues? Or, could you pinpoint our disagreement?

I'm not sure of anything - just haven't found much written material on the subject, so I'm trying to understand what's going on. I suspect that:

(1): many people do not think about this from this perspective (and those who do may not believe it philosophically - eg. most people would see Brave New World as a dystopia)

(3): those who did try it encounter significant legal/cultural issues?

And in the (probable) case you're right on that entire logic flow I would have expected A LOT more written material on the subject. What do you think?

Sorry I'm not answering your question, but I think it's important to note some line needs to be drawn between treating issues (e.g. depression) and just wireheading. I don't think "a drug that makes everyone 20% happier" is necessarily a good thing. It could have both side effects for individuals, and widespread societal effects.

I separate this from wireheading in that it does not necessarily decrease emotional variance, and in that the effect is not necessarily extreme as in a literal electrical wireheading . I'm not even sure that making the average person 20% happier would even equate them with the top 5-10% "naturally" happiest people.

However to my knowledge there still is no wireheading technology that is sustainable over time, and I am inclined to believe that it is desirable to develop one as that may open up society to more nuanced transhumanist  "happiness technologies" ("paradise engineering").

[comment deleted]2

This isn't directly relevant, but hopefully helpful.    

Another way to look at suffering  is that all suffering (psychological) is made of thought.   There are a variety of simple mechanical exercises accessible to any somewhat serious person which can reduce the volume of thought, and thus suffering.

What often happens is that we suffer, and then we start thinking about it, trying to figure it out, regretting it etc and that generates more thought, fueling the suffering.

Suffering is made of thought.   Worth investigating.

I did a lot of psychedelics in the sixties, and while I don't regret those experiences, most of us from that era moved on after a couple of years and converted to softer more natural kinds of experiences.

That said, I have seen documentaries where seemingly credible researchers claim lasting benefits to their patients from psychedelic experiences.   

DMT is a very interesting substance which you might investigate if you haven't already.  It's not really a happy drug though, more of a profoundly philosophical drug, as I understand it from a  distance.  Look for a documentary called "The Spirit Molecule" which tracks a DMT clinical trial conducted by a scientist.   

Thanks for the comment. I will watch that documentary. I did watch "How to Change Your Mind" though and it did seem great - may I ask why you and your friends moved on from psychedelics then, aside from the much-quoted legal/cultural issues?

Ah, great.   In my previous post I had wanted to aim you at that documentary, but at the moment I couldn't remember the name, or find it on streaming.   So I'm glad you already have it.

Here's a link to The Spirit Molecule:   


To try to answer your question...

For me, the sixties was high school, so my psychedelic use was pretty immature compared to what it might be today.   You know, we'd buy LSD on the street and never give a thought to who actually made it.  Not very bright!

My memory of why I moved on was that, while I enjoyed all my LSD experiences, it just began to feel like too powerful a drug.   Not that the experience was too strong, or unwelcome, but more like the drug being a pollutant.   The fact that we were taking street drugs might explain some of that.  

Another factor for me personally was I grew up, went on to college, and for awhile was trying to be serious and um, become a drone slave of the corporate gulag :-) which is how I might have expressed it at the time.  I got over that and returned to a more hippy philosophy and lifestyle, but didn't return to LSD.

Another factor at the time was that the entire hippy wing of my generation migrated from psychedelics to natural foods, meditation, back to the land, and other more wholesome approaches to life, which was a good thing.   

One life lesson I remember learning from LSD was to roll with it.  You know, once you take LSD you're off on a trip that will take you where it will, and there's no turning back.  So you learned not to try to drive the bus, and instead "go with the flow" and accept whatever was happening in the moment.  It was the folks who fought it that tended to get in to trouble.

I'm not at all cynical about LSD, and MIGHT take it again the right circumstances, but it seems I'm not motivated to find those circumstances. 

I still smoke pot, which I find to be very useful.  But I smoke only the tiniest fraction of what I once did long ago.   A hit or two on the pipe once or twice a month, and I'm good.   

Finally, I can't quite calculate the impact LSD had on my relationship with nature, but that relationship has become a very big factor in my life.      I lived a block from the beach during the time I was doing LSD, and was an avid surfer, and these early influences probably had something to do with the fact that I spent most of my time in the woods today.      

So that's enough memory lane for now.  If you have some other questions you'd like me to address feel free to ask.   If I somehow miss your reply, feel free to PM.   

Good luck with your project, pretty darn interesting!

Cool, thanks for the interesting perspective!

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