Can Drugs Have Ethical Side Effects?

I will have to try to answer this question as a neuroscientist and not an ethics expert, who might want to ask the question of what “ethical side effects” are.

We have known for a long time that drugs not only have physical effects but also effects on mood and cognitive aspects—after all, we all know that alcohol can make you more relaxed, anti-histamines can make you slightly drowsy. There have also been recent studies of serotonin (a neurotransmitter whose concentration is manipulated by some antidepressant drugs) as well as oxytocin affecting our social and moral decisions. Also, we know that emotions (such as fear, happiness, sadness) influence the decisions we make. So might then not a drug that alters your mood also alter your decisions to some extent?

Our results on the effect of propranolol on implicit racial bias also might count as a “moral side effect.” This was the first study in this line of research, and we hope that it will trigger more—for me, as a neuroscientist, to give a greater understanding of the brain processes that shape racial bias.

However, what we don’t know is if the effects of these drugs would persist in the course of clinical treatment, and if this would indeed have any effect on the real-life choices people make.

Sylvia Terbeck is a doctoral student in experimental psychology and neuroscience at the University of Oxford.

Category: Q&A


2 Responses

  1. If you called alcohols drug that definitely effect to our ethical side.Man losses his balance in driving and may killed innocent people in accident.Same is true other intoxicating drugs.Sleeping pills have also effect to our ethical side

  2. Eduard Soler says:

    I share (in spanish) in my blog your thoughts, also I am a in doctoral student, my interest is the ethics and the right to information of medicines

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