The science journal Nature published a fascinating essay about the weaponization of chemical agents that affect the brain. Of course, that was the US and UK military's goal when they ran their own "acid tests" in the 1950s and 1960s. (See the video above.) Research on more advanced chemicals continues though. In his nature piece, Malcolm Dando, professor of International Security in the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University, UK, surveys some of the newest developments and possibilities, and argues that the Chemical Weapons Convention, an arms control agreement, needs to be modified sooner rather than later. From Nature:
For example, in 2006, the US National Academies produced a report called Globalization, Biosecurity, and the Future of the Life Sciences. The authors argued that recent advances in our understanding of how bioregulatory compounds work, of signalling processes and of the regulation of human gene expression – combined with developments in chemistry, synthetic biology and in technologies such as nanotechnology – have "opened up new and exceedingly challenging frontiers of concern".
More recently, a 2008 US National Academies report entitled Emerging Cognitive Neuroscience and Related Technologies, similarly argued that in cases in which 'agonists' of a particular system have been found to enhance some cognitive trait, an 'antagonist' might be developed that could reduce it and vice versa. If dopamine agonists enhance attention, say, so dopamine antagonists might disrupt it. They also warned, among other things, that nanotechnologies could overcome the blood–brain barrier and "exploit existing transport mechanisms to transmit substances into the brain in analogy with the Trojan horse".
Some researchers are actively facilitating the development of new chemical weapons. For example, a research group from Pennsylvania State University in University Park has identified several drug classes as potential non-lethal agents or 'calmatives'3, including benzodiazepines and 2-adrenoreceptor agonists, as well as individual drugs such as diazepam and dexmedetomidine.
Some researchers are actively facilitating the development of new chemical weapons.
Similarly, at the 4th European Symposium on Non-Lethal Weapons in 2007, researchers from the Institute of Experimental Medicine and Charles University in Prague described the effects on macaque monkeys of combinations of drugs that produce a rapid loss of aggressive behaviour4. They argued that the drugs could be "used to pacify aggressive people during ... terrorist attacks". The same researchers have also investigated methods of aerosol delivery to human volunteers.