Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Chinese Neurosurgeons Take Aggressive Approach to Addiction

The problem of drug addiction is rampant over most of the world. In most countries, the official response to drug addiction is minimal or nonexistent. In advanced western countries, the official approach to treating drug addiction involves behavioural treatments, 12 step treatments, and various medications, including methadone.

But in China, the surgical approach to treating drug addiction is more popular.
Surgeons use heat to kill cells in small sections of both sides of the brain’s nucleus accumbens. That region is saturated with neurons containing dopamine and endogenous opioids, which are involved in pleasure and desire related both to drugs and to ordinary experiences like eating, love and sex. _Nucleus Accumbens Ablation

By taking away the pleasure of the addiction, Chinese neurosurgeons hope to stop the addiction itself.
The procedure involves drilling small holes into the skulls of patients and inserting long electrodes which extend down to the part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This area, often referred to as the “pleasure center” of the brain, is the major nucleus of the brain’s reward circuit. The neurotransmitter dopamine stimulates cells here to elicit the pleasurable sensations we get from eating fatty foods, getting a job promotion, or taking heroin. Electrical current is passed through the electrodes which kill the cells of the nucleus accumbens. By ridding the addicts of their pleasure centers, doctors hope to rid them of their addictions as well. The surgery is performed while the patients are awake to minimize the chance of damaging regions involved in sensation, movement or consciousness. _SingularityHub
The results are mixed, with some Chinese analyses suggesting that particular surgical approaches can bring about a larger number of "cures" than less invasive approaches.

Side effects are common, including loss of motivation, personality changes, and sometimes decreased intelligence and motor control.

In a country like China, where political prisoners are used as organ donors for the wealthy and politically connected, one should expect to see a more daring approach to brain surgery, than one might see in North America or Europe.

It is possible that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the types of neurosurgery which are actually being carried out in China. Hidden archives may well exist, containing reports of more daring surgical procedures meant to achieve more profound levels of behavioural control over subjects.

If it is okay to take a political prisoner's kidney, liver, or lung, certainly there should be no ethical restraints over modifying the same prisoner's behaviour -- one way or another.

I seem to recall another totalitarian political regime that carried out similar forms of avant-garde experimentation on political prisoners. I just can't think of which other totalitarian state it was. Don't tell me, it will come.

Anyway. You may consider which would be worse: to suffer from a drug addiction, or to have a significant part of your brain destroyed, leaving you without the ability to experience a wide range of normal human pleasures?

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