Humans have always been obsessed with looking better. Today, more than ever, it’s a growing business, with a huge range of human enhancement substances readily available. Should we be worried?

Dr Kyle Mulrooney, UNE Criminology and researcher in human enhancement drugs says human enhancement drugs as a whole has traditionally been misunderstood and therefore an under-researched field.

“When people think about human enhancement drugs, they usually think of steroids. This is, of course, one form of human enhancement, but it doesn’t even scratch the surface,” Dr Mulrooney says.

“When we talk about human enhancement drugs, we’re talking about a really broad spectrum of substances that includes everything from vitamins and minerals to dermal fillers and Botox to prescription drugs and illegal substances.

“These substances are used by millions of people every day wanting to exercise harder, study or work harder, feel healthier and happier, look fitter or look younger.

“Some of these substances, like vitamins, minerals and supplements are available on the open market. Others, like methylphenidate or testosterone may be available by prescription, putting them in a semi-legal category. Others like 2,4-Dinitrophenol (DNP) or ephedrine are illegal and only available on the black market.

“This means it’s a rich field for research within criminology, but the implications extend well beyond criminal and legal issues. There are important considerations for psychology, education and public health as well.

“The fact remains that some of the compounds sold can have serious health consequences.”

Dr Mulrooney says while there has been growing government, community and media interest in the use and regulation of human enhancement drugs, the problem has been a lack of available information.   

“If we don’t have a good understanding of where these substances are being purchased, who is using them, where, and how wide this usage is, we can’t begin to talk about safety and regulation of these drugs, which are conversations we know we need to be having.”

In order to help draw together and consolidate research in the field, Dr Mulrooney and University of NSW researcher Dr Katinka van de Ven, established the international Human Enhancement Drugs Network (HEDN) in 2012, which consists of over 85 people including scholars, lawyers, healthcare professionals and other stakeholders across 15 countries.

Dr Mulrooney, Dr Van de Ven and public health expert Dr Jim McVeigh, of the Liverpool John Moores University, have also just released a comprehensive edited collection, Human Enhancement Drugs – the first of its kind – with contributions from various network members.  

“The growth of the network and diversity of input into the publication goes to show how much interest there is in this field, and how many different research perspectives these issues cut across,” Dr Mulrooney says.  

“Through the network, we’re developing a really solid evidence-base of the issues and impact of a variety of human enhancement substances that’s bringing together academics, government and non-government agencies and user groups.

“Our aim is to provide information and resources to anyone interested in human enhancement drugs in the community, and to provide consolidated research that can help address any emerging community issues.”

More: the Human Enhancement Drugs Network:
Human Enhancement Drugs (book):