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Brain science, addiction and drugs

Press release issued: 15 July 2005

New treatments for disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease; improved treatments for addiction, and the development of cognition enhancers -could be less than 20 years away.

New treatments for disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease; improved treatments for addiction, and the development of cognition enhancers - a variety of products that improve mental function - could be less than 20 years away.

The report 'Drugs Futures 2025?', published by Foresight, the Government's science-based think-tank, provides independent evidence through 'horizon-scanning' of what future scientific advancements may uncover in the next 20 years.

Professor David Nutt,  Head of the Department of Community Based Medicine at the University of Bristol was one of three key consultants on the report, which was led by Sir David King, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser. The other two consultants were Professor Gerry Stimson, Executive Director, International Harm Reduction Association and Professor Trevor Robbins, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge.

An example of what the report examined is cognition enhancing drugs which now promise to improve our ability to think and plan. They could also help alleviate the mental decline of increasing numbers of elderly people.

Professor Nutt said: "Drugs with modest enhancing effects are already being used by some individuals with cognitive skills that are in the normal range. In the coming 20 years, our growing knowledge of brain functions could allow many more possible cognition enhancers to be developed.  But their use raises many issues, including medical and ethical concerns."

The report identifies a number of advances for the future of science and society. These developments may have wide-reaching implications for society and highlight key opportunities and challenges for the 21st century.

Set up to investigate how to manage the use of psychocative substances in the future to the best advantage for the individual, community and society, the project is based on a scientific review of possible opportunities and risks that may inform future research, industry investment and public policy.

The report suggests the greatest changes society will witness in the near future will be in our understanding of the brain, how it functions and performs, its capacity and limitations and how it affects our behaviour.

Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir David King said:

"This project produced a clear view of the opportunities and challenges society, industry and Government will face as we seek to support the health and well-being of the nation over the next 20 years.

"Foresight's evidence will help chart the best way forward in public policy formation and decision making over the next decade. It has provided a thorough review of the science underpinning the brain and addiction.

"By examining challenging issues, such as brain science and addiction, scientists can help inform Government and others by building a strong scientific evidence base. This will provide the best platform to help us prepare for the future.

"As with any advances that have significant implications for society, it is important to consider how best to manage change accordingly."

The project expected to see developments in our understanding of specialist fields, including neuroscience, genetics, pharmacology, psychology and social policy. It highlighted possible ground breaking developments in the treatment of mental health illness and drug addiction.

The report draws upon 15 'state-of-science' reviews, commissioned by the Office of Science and Technology, into brain science and psychoactive substances, ranging from history and addiction to the psychological treatment of substance abuse and dependence.

The project identified 18 strategic issues including:

  • how to ensure the development of potential new advances in medicines for mental health;
  • how to support the long term mental health of the nation;
  • how to ensure the development of new treatments for addiction.

The Government will now ask the Academy of Medical Sciences  to look at issues relating to society, health, safety and the environment raised in the report. Part of this work will include public dialogue where experts and members of the public can debate the issues which advances in brain science, mental health treatments and addiction may raise.

The full report on Foresight and the Brain Science, Addiction and Drugs project can be found at

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