Ethical, Legal and Social Issues in Non-Medical Use of Drugs


Various academic disciplines are increasingly concerned with uses of pharmaceuticals (e.g., opioids, stimulants) and other substances (e.g., cannabis) for uses that fall outside the boundaries of medicine as it is usually conceived. Controversies have sprung up on issues as diverse as pharmaceutical cognitive enhancement, addiction, alternatives to punishment, deletion of unwanted memories and improving the mood of people who were never clinically depressed.

These discussions usually occur in disciplinary silos, but opinions that draw on basic science and technology should not be divorced from those referencing social and ethical issues. This Research Topic proposes to bridge this gap. It deals with the non-medical uses of drugs comprehensively in three important ways. First, it addresses the technological implications of novel uses of existing pharmaceuticals examining the basic science concerning their effects on healthy adults. Second, drawing on social science research, it examines prevalence of drug use including future trends. Finally, it interrogates normative issues sited in the legal, ethical and political realms that represent the potential responses of society to new uses of drugs. This has never been more relevant in the face of more and more jurisdictions apparently weakening their drug control regimes, and what has been called an ‘epidemic’ of non-medical uses of prescription drugs.

The ethical discussion surrounding the non-medical use of drugs needs to be grounded with the data currently in the scientific literature, and social science research on prevalence, social trends, drivers of uptake and other related issues so that the phenomenon can be properly understood. Similarly, basic science research on drug use is not done in vacuum. It is mostly supported by public funds, but also by individuals and organizations with specific agendas. Proactive considerations of these issues will benefit the scientific effort as well as the society.

This Research Topic offers a platform for timely debate on existing and emerging interventions, focusing on mechanisms of action, epidemiological considerations, ethical principles, legal responses (including comparative jurisprudence), and public policy. We know of no project of similar breadth and depth on the topic and hope it will represent a landmark in the ongoing discussion.