# Could there exist a non-addictive drug giving the same pleasure as heroin?

The drug should have the same effect as heroin, but without being addictive at all. Is this chemically possible?

• It seems to me that without physiological addiction is possible (no painfull effects on withdrawal), but since it feels good, it would still cause psychological addiction (longing to experience it again.) – b.Lorenz Jul 2 '17 at 6:36
• One way to make this happen would be to save a copy of the individual's brain, experience the extremely pleasurable event, and then roll back to brain to the earlier state. This would be guaranteed free of addiction, since the person wouldn't remember at all having the experience. Since short-term memory loss can be caused by drugs, a drug that has both of these effects should be possible. – isaacg Jul 2 '17 at 10:06
• I think the answer is no because while horrific, I read somewhere they are not the real problem - the psychological addiction is. Which put the answer into a very bad problem as the psychological addiction is actually the extreme pleasure giving. So, you may get a drug that is not physically addictive, but it will STILL be extremely addictive. – TomTom Jul 2 '17 at 13:22
• Yes. Stackexchange. $\color{white}{cica}$ – Gray Sheep Jul 2 '17 at 14:43
• The question explicitly asked for something non-addictive. – Džuris Jul 2 '17 at 15:32

Larry Niven's Known Space writing universe included a device called a Tasp which induced electrical signals inside the pleasure centers of the human brain. It's effects were described as overwhelmingly euphoric, rendering the "victim" so flooded with pleasurable sensations that they could not perceive or interact with their real world surroundings. Such a device did not involve any chemicals being added to the brain, but it was described as being extremely addictive.

It is my belief that this is a fair prediction of the addictive properties of anything that makes us feel as good as heroin apparently does. It does not matter if there is any chemical cause for the addiction, our simple desire for the continuation of that sensation can enslave us as strongly as any drug.

If your chemical-addiction-free heroin substitute has the same effect as real heroin, we will become addicted to those effects regardless of the chemistry.

• Psychologically it might still induce the same king of longing/craving, but wouldn't the absence of physical withdrawal symptoms make kicking it at least a little easier? – Hyfnae Jul 2 '17 at 8:30
• @Hyfnae Cocaine withdrawal (for example) has psychological symptoms like anxiety, craving, and anhedonia; but not the physical symptoms of heroin withdrawal like diarrhea, nausea, and muscle cramps. Yet people say that cocaine too is addictive. – ChrisW Jul 2 '17 at 10:08
• m.youtube.com/watch?v=ao8L-0nSYzg.— What really causes addiction? – WGroleau Jul 2 '17 at 13:53
• @Hyfnae The physical symptoms are not what bring people back again and again (even though those might kill them) it's the brain chemistry stuff, the craving. – Erin Thursby Jul 2 '17 at 15:16
• @WGroleau This video was covered on Skeptics and it isn't as groundbreaking as the authors make it sound skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/30697/… – Maurycy Jul 2 '17 at 18:15

Absolutely, it would be addictive, because what you're talking about is messing with brain chemistry.

I think that perhaps you might be confusing two different things: Dependence happens when the body has adapted to the continued presence of a drug Addiction can be bound up with dependence, but it doesn't have to be. With addiction all that needs to be present is a persistent compulsive use of a substance or action known by the user to be harmful to their lives and/or bodies

Anything that's pleasurable can be addictive. Some of addiction has less to do with physical withdrawal and more to do with brain chemistry. A certain number of people are predisposed to addiction through genetics, the age at which they tried drugs (the earlier, and more frequent the more likely to have the pattern), and the environment.

You might think that with no physical withdrawal symptoms that it's not actually addictive.

I disagree. Because anything that messes with the pleasure centers has an effect.

When stimulated by amphetamine, cocaine or other addictive drugs, the reward system disperses up to 10 times more dopamine than usual. Continuous use of such drugs robs them of their power to induce euphoria. Addictive substances keep the brain so awash in dopamine that it eventually adapts by producing less of the molecule and becoming less responsive to its effects. As a consequence, addicts build up a tolerance to a drug, needing larger and larger amounts to get high. In severe addiction, people also go through withdrawal—they feel physically ill, cannot sleep and shake uncontrollably—if their brain is deprived of a dopamine-stimulating substance for too long. SOURCE

The source I have quoted above is an article from Scientific America on GAMBLING addiction. Please do click on the link and read the article, it is simply chock full of info you would find useful regarding the subject of addiction and how it works.

The article, which is worth reading, basically talks about how initially a gambling addiction was just thought of as a bad habit that could ruin your life rather than bona fide addiction. But they have found that the same sort of therapeutic treatments and approach used to beat addiction, and the same brain chemistry issues are present in those who can't stop gambling.

You might say "hey not gambling won't give people physical symptoms when they don't so it doesn't count as a addictive." To which I say, for a certain segment of the population it absolutely is.

Furthermore, gambling, which is something that involves no drug at all, can change brain chemistry and response in the same EXACT ways drug addiction does.

A 2005 German study using such a card game suggests problem gamblers—like drug addicts—have lost sensitivity to their high: when winning, subjects had lower than typical electrical activity in a key region of the brain's reward system. In a 2003 study at Yale University and a 2012 study at the University of Amsterdam, pathological gamblers taking tests that measured their impulsivity had unusually low levels of electrical activity in prefrontal brain regions that help people assess risks and suppress instincts. Drug addicts also often have a listless prefrontal cortex. Further evidence that gambling and drugs change the brain in similar ways surfaced in an unexpected group of people: those with the neurodegenerative disorder Parkinson's disease. Characterized by muscle stiffness and tremors, Parkinson's is caused by the death of dopamine-producing neurons in a section of the midbrain. Over the decades researchers noticed that a remarkably high number of Parkinson's patients—between 2 and 7 percent—are compulsive gamblers. Treatment for one disorder most likely contributes to another. To ease symptoms of Parkinson's, some patients take levodopa and other drugs that increase dopamine levels.

So what does this tell us? It tells us that if something gives us pleasure, it has the capacity to be addictive. You might be able to gamble and stop, no problem. There are people who were able to do heroin a few times and stop, periodically using again--but the rate of addiction for the drug is pretty high, even for those who don't have a predisposition to addiction.

Let's take a drug though, that we have today that does stimulate the pleasure centers, but that has been claimed not to be addictive.

It's not supposed to be that addictive. There aren't really physical symptoms. But the brain can be completely changed.

While many people do not develop chemical dependency on Molly, psychological craving (the defining characteristic of addiction) can be quite high. Molly effects the brain by altering the chemical responses of neurotransmitters. These disruptions hinder proper communication between neurons.

There are people, right now, who are on Molly just to function, not to get high, which is, of course, a big sign that they are an addict.

Here's what I would do with your fictional drug to get to where you want:

• It repairs/resets anything it damaged before it wears off.
• The high is exactly the same every time. As in you don't need more of it to get high. No one builds a tolerance. If there is no tolerance, then folks are less likely to need it just to function.

This is not chemically possible as of yet. Far into the realm of sci-fi, I would say.

• A question though, is why some people evidently find particular things pleasurable, while others don't. Take gambling, for instance: I used to be a professional gambler - I made money at it - but it was just work, and in fairly unpleasant conditions. I quit when I found better-paying work, and haven't been in casinos since. OTOH I get a lot of pleasure from skiing, wouldn't willingly give it up, but when the snow melts I do something else and am quite happy. – jamesqf Jul 2 '17 at 17:22
• @Erin I don't have time now, I skimmed through what you wrote, i'll take some time later, but what you are saying (and others, it seems), is that people continue to use substances like heroin, even when they are conscious that it destroys their life mainly due to the pleasant memory of the previous hit? I'm not talking about the first hit. If yes, I'd say I disagree, for now. – aboat Jul 2 '17 at 18:55
• @aboat I am saying that the physical dependency (literally dying because you don't have the drug) is not as big of a pull as the mental dependency, and that literally anything that gives pleasure can change brain chemistry in such a way that it takes more and more and more to get the same amount of pleasure. It's not so much remembering as it is the brain no longer reacting the same way or giving them the same high as it did before. That's what I am saying about resetting tolerance. – Erin Thursby Jul 3 '17 at 2:58
• @jamesqf Yes, the predisposition or lack of it varies from person to person. Accidiction runs in families. You can take or leave gambling, and there are even some people who can take or leave heroine. It's not just the pleasure, it's chasing that pleasure and the diminishing returns each time. Finding the addiction gene or widely available chemicals that can switch that off would be very good for everyone. – Erin Thursby Jul 3 '17 at 3:03

Now as pleasurable as sex may be, rock stars and sports stars that can have all the partners they want, as many as they want at a time, still say heroin blows sex away in the magnitude of the euphoria.

Chemical dependence is not the main feature of addiction, anything just like cocaine will most certainly be very highly addictive, and still destroy people's finances, relationships, and lives, still lead to the same lies, cover-ups, and crimes to feed the addiction. There is no way to make anything that is pleasurable "not addictive at all".

• I don't know about you, but I'm addicted to food. There are serious physical withdrawal symptoms when I don't get a regular hit. :-) – StephenG Jul 2 '17 at 12:11
• Oxygen man, I just can't get enough of that stuff! – djsmiley2kStaysInside Jul 2 '17 at 12:56
• @StephenG Ha. But to be clear, addiction is not equivalent to hunger, it is specifically related to a compulsion to stimulate the reward centers in the brain to excess for its own sake. Eating when you are hungry will release dopamine and feel satisfying. Eating when you are not hungry will often do that too, a hit of glucose causes pleasure. Neither is addiction; addiction is more of a persistent state (or cycle) of imbalance, the loss of control and indulging in such self-stimulation despite the external costs incurred (social, financial, legal, and health related). – Amadeus Jul 2 '17 at 14:35
• Food is physically addictive. I can name at least 2 mechanisms: the stomach expands if you eat more, so you need more food to feel fed up, and also the stomach acid is produced at the times when you usually take food so if you do not eat at that time, you will experience negative sensations in stomach. – Anixx Jul 2 '17 at 20:09
• @Anixx Okay. As I indicate in my post, physical addiction is a side issue. For people with expanded stomachs due to food addiction, it has been shown that surgically reducing the stomach size, thereby bypassing the "physical" part of the food addiction, does not cure the addiction, they often become obese again, or indeed there are cases in which they die due to eating enough to rupture their smaller stomach. Also cases in which they reduce the stomach and then develop another addiction, like drugs. It is their reward system they are compelled to constantly stimulate one way or another. – Amadeus Jul 2 '17 at 20:22

It's a tad ironic you asked this question today. The most popular (emailed) story at the nytimes.com is about how all the intensely pleasurable activities (drugs, comfort food, sex, etc) are addictive, because they are pleasurable. It talks about the power of habit, but also the change the dopamine receptors in your brain, causing you to no longer be stimulated by less intense experiences.

Now, you can be dependent on heroin to avoid withdrawal symptoms. But that's considered differently from addiction in medical literature. If you're asking if something can be that pleasurable without physical dependence, sure. If you're asking if something can be that pleasurable without being addictive, I don't believe so.

• I watched Trainspotting, and made me wonder. – aboat Jul 2 '17 at 18:28

It seems like it would be most plausible if the user took a drug that prevents the addiction from forming. I'm thinking something along the lines of ibudilast.

One could imagine a heroin user mainlining an anti-inflammatory drug or a biologic, or having a port that connects to either drug (or a saline drip to easily rehydrate). This could also open the door for some interesting conflict (addiction blocker gets stolen, user runs out without realizing it, someone maliciously replaces drug with placebo or other drug, etc).

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Other answers have dealt with the difference between physical and psychological addiction. Physical requires repeated uses and a recalibration of the physiology such that the lack of the drug causes withdrawals. There are lots of examples of this and not all are fun - clonidine, for example, is a blood pressure drug. If you take a lot and the run out or go cold turkey you can suffer a surge of blood pressure. The withdrawals from opiates or alcohol are similar physiologic effects. Since there are several opiate receptors and it is possible to have drugs which are selective inhibitors of specific ones (e.g. methylnaltrexone) you could theoretically have an opiate which conferred a heroin high without inducing dependence with repeated use.

The other issue is psychologic addiction. If you crave the different feeling conferred by a substance or experience it might not matter what the substance or experience is. This would be a risk with the non-dependence opioid described above.

All of this is in the other answers. The new piece here: the way around psychologic addiction is amnesia. If you do not remember how good it felt, you will not be thinking about it and craving it. There is some thought that the hormone oxytocin works this way (but in the reverse) as regards childbirth - if a woman giving birth clearly remembered how much it hurt, she might avoid that in the future and so decrease her genetic fitness. Those women who did not lay down memories clearly during the experience would be less likely to avoid it in the future. Short acting amnestics are used routinely for unpleasant medical procedures - it is bad for the person while it happens, but they don't remember afterwards. This is also the principle behind the date rape drugs.

So: your no-addiction drug must lack the ability to cause physical dependence, and either itself or with a codelivered drug block the ability to lay down memories of the experience.

As others have said, since activities themselves can become additive for certain people, there's no way to totally limit the addiction potential. However, if the substance in question also had the effect after the high wore off of acting as an opioid-receptor blocker, then subsequent re-doses of the chemical would fail to achieve any kind of noticeable high. There are actually products on the market now that can block these receptors temporarily, but for the purpose of making the chemical TRULY non-addictive, there can be only one choice:

Have a single usage of the chemical end with the complete disabling of all the opioid/amphetamine/cannabinoid/etc receptors in the brain.

You can therefor only use this drug once, and while it can provide the greatest feeling ever, after it's over, you will never again have any other kind of high in its class of drug. This will have the effect of making the drug unappealing to some folks who feel the need to constantly medicate themselves, but would also open up the drug to a whole class of other "respectable" citizens who would otherwise be worried about addiction and would never consider taking anything that didn't have this baked-in buffer.

Furthermore, if the primary effect of the chemical was a profound psychedelic experience, it could be used by existing addicts as a final "cure" for their addictions, since they'd have the duration of the drug for its primary effect to contemplate how their lives had gotten so screwed up, with the knowledge that they would now be unable to return to opioid/other abuse. This is similar to the real-world usage of ibogaine and ayahuasca to treat drug addiction.

Yes, I think so. Certainly you can speculate such thing being possible. Stories about "herbal remedies" that actually "reset" drug addiction do exist after all. Bad news is that since drug policy is such a sensitive thing research has been limited. Good news is that this also means we are free to speculate.

The basic issue is that pleasure is the way brain uses to reward experiences that should be repeated so there is a hard-wired system that strengthens behaviour patterns that led to the experience. So pleasurable activities are innately habit forming and addictive regardless of the nature and specifics of the activity.

The pleasure and and the habit forming are still two separate processes. So it is possible to have pleasure without it becoming addictive. Mental and physical state for example can reduce or increase addiction. Your hypothetical drug would simply contain an additional component that entirely blocks the habit forming process. This drug would be entirely non-addictive. Although it would be even more incapacitating than the unaltered drug.

If the drug simply blocks or inverts the strengthening of the habit it would actually help reduce pre-existing addictions to similar drugs.

As others have said, it's pleasure that people can be addicted to, not so much a chemical. One study noted that 20% of soldiers in Vietnam were using heroin, but most quit when they came home. Another study showed rats preferring cocaine-laced water over plain, but a follow-up study showed that under different circumstances, they avoided the cocaine.

Quick summary based on Chasing the Scream.

• I know about those. But, it's not that simple. It may be that, pleasant activities helped the vets give up on heroin. For the case of rats, it may be that mating is more pleasant than heroin, or that some biological process determines the rat to choose mating instead of cocaine. Those experiments don't prove that it's just psychological. – aboat Jul 2 '17 at 18:32
• No, they don't. But they suggest that much of it is psycho-emotional. And certainly the "war on drugs" isn't working real well. Portugal claims (I haven't verified) that drug use is less since they eliminated penalties. – WGroleau Jul 2 '17 at 18:56
• Well, the war on drugs is another subject. I did not downvote you. – aboat Jul 2 '17 at 18:57