In the Future, Your Drug Dealer Will Be a Printer
Jul 4 2012
Drug dealers from the future look a lot friendlier
Scoring drugs is one of life’s great pains in the ass. Either a friend knows some guy who lives in some dodgy neighborhood full of people sharpening their dog's teeth on park swings. Or you get them off some random in a club whose entire body is an event horizon for his giant pupils.
But don’t worry, it won’t always be this way. Scientists are working on a solution. That solution is 3D printed drugs. Instead of having to go and get drugs from the scary outside world you’ll be able to print custom drugs adapted to whatever your needs are, right there at home, in your bedroom. Surrounded by empty takeaway containers and a cat that will be stoned forever because everyone knows that cats can't release THC.
And you won’t buy drugs either, you’ll download apps. These apps will give you access to the blueprints that will give you what you need. And you won’t even need to worry about the legality of drugs any more, because there won’t be any drug laws, because drugs will be so tailored it’ll be impossible for the state to keep up without resorting to selling them itself.
The current drug economy where wars are waged and billions exchanged illegally will be a thing of the past. With with 3D printed drugs, we could enter a brave new world where taking any drug is as legal as drinking a cup of coffee. But even more customized. Which is fine, as long as we don’t all end up addicted to something that makes us want to eat each other’s faces off, because the tandem effects make us feel like the sun.
But mostly, 3D printed drugs will be about being able to give people the medicine they need, customized just for them, to combat diseases that are currently incurable. From a family that's predisposed to some horrible, life-crippling disease? Then you’ll be taking combative drugs from birth. Hayfever sufferer? Then why not take this bespoke drug synthesized from local honey, you pussy. Plus we'll be able to wave goodbye to the corrupt big drug companies that are in cahoots with chemists, because as long as they're regulated, anyone who has a breakthrough will be able to market the drugs directly to the consumer.
I Skyped with Professor Lee Cronin—a scientist behind the technology at Glasgow University—to find out a bit more about this insane-sounding drug-printer.
VICE: Hi Lee. So firstly, can you briefly describe how the 3D printing of a drug works. You don't just print out a little pill, do you?
Lee Cronin: OK, I will try. Imagine the following: 1) you go to an online drug store; 2) you decide what you need (with a prescription); 3) you buy both the blueprint and the ink; 4) the "ink" comes pre-sealed in a safe cartridge; 5) you print the drug with the special ink and the software; 6) you take the drug.
And what are the main benefits of this approach?
Well it's nice, because it allows you to deploy the drug more widely and now the software is the value, not the chemical. It removes the problem of counterfeit drugs, for example, and also opens up the way for personal medicine.
Lee Cronin in his lab.
How would personal medicine work, then?
Not telling I'm afraid, but watch this space.
OK, I can give just a wee hint. Imagine I had a new drug discovery platform that combined the features above. Imagine I had your genome, etc. The 3D printers and the chemistry kit would need to be widely available first, rather like smartphones today, but it is going to happen, there is going to be a revolution...
I agree, we will all soon have 3D printers in the home.
And the key is personal chemistry...
So people would have bespoke medicine based on their DNA?
Nope, not just that. I have a way of combining nature and nurture.
Can you elaborate a little?
Let’s just say I'm creating a biological time machine to work out what disease you are going to get as a function of nature plus nurture—and then create the drug to cure it.
So you'll look at their biological makeup and the life they've been born into and assess the likelihood of them developing certain diseases?
Sort of, yeah.
Could you see humanity living forever with these sorts of advances?
Not beyond any limit, I’m not into that stuff. My aim is to keep people healthy as long as possible.
And I guess this could have positive implications for poorer countries, too? Making drugs cheaper and more accessible?
Could you foresee a kind of "maker industry" building up around pharmaceuticals, like we've seen in other areas of 3D printing? Amateur chemists experimenting with designer and prescription drugs?
Yes, it is like ARM technologies. In the future, we will not sell drugs, but blueprints or apps. These apps would be tested or validated in the lab before being deployed.
So how would you stop people abusing the technology, like drug dealers looking to manufacture drugs to sell on the street? Or even just curious chemists making recreational drugs for their friends to try?
Well, that would be limited I guess and how to do that is a debate that needs to be had. But it could work like with Apple securing the iPhone from unauthorized apps.
People can jailbreak an iPhone though, you'll always have people who can hack the technology.
But people can break into chemical labs and make their own stuff.
Sure, people illegally manufacture drugs now, but would it make it easier, more accessible, because you no longer need a lab?
No, that’s not right, since you just link the ink production and software and encrypt them. What you’re talking about is immensely complex in terms of ethics, regulation, and personal freedom. But we could make sure the ink is so simple that any attempt to split it open and do things would not work. The amount made and the way it would be deployed would be on such a small scale that it would not be usable for other things.
How long do you think it will be before we get this technology in our homes? A few years? Decades?
Maybe ten to 15 years? Who knows? Maybe five to ten.
Fucking great. Thanks, Lee.
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