Last week, as part of my company's investment work in the health care industry, I sat through a marketing pitch from a Chinese manufacturer of low-cost and disposable drug tests, many of which deliver results in mere seconds. They ranged from the familiar home pregnancy tests to sophisticated multi-panel urine screens (for narcotics) -- and even included a mouth swab for measuring blood-alcohol levels, the kind you'll soon be scooping out of a bowl at your favorite bar to check your ability to drive before heading home.
The pitch got me thinking about our collective future in this era of rapid biological advances: We are heading toward a world in which pharmaceutically enhanced living will be the norm throughout life, and not just among the chronically impaired and the elderly. Because these drugs, in the future, will play an even greater role in extending lives even longer than they do today, gaining access to them will become an even more contentious political issue -- both domestically and internationally -- than it is today (a good example being HIV therapies).
While there's plenty of upside potential here, one significant challenge will be developing and enforcing a complex set of rules regarding who can do what while using which drugs. We're already familiar with the obvious rules: all your shots before kindergarten, no driving under the influence, and no home-run slugging after "juicing." But that still leaves enormous room for a whole raft of new rules for perfectly legal substances: no concentration-enhancing drugs while taking educational tests, for example, or no judgment-impairing stuff while working with minors. In the international arena, it could also mean restrictions regarding access to certain countries -- Islamic states that outlaw blood levels of drugs derived from various substances, or other special "preserves" for various kinds of substance-free tourism.