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Drug Our Drinking Water | Big Think | Month of Thinking Dangerously

Big Think asks: Why should we drug our drinking water?

Jacob Appel: I think when you ask questions about whether or not any pharmaceutical or any products be added to the drinking water, you’re really asking two sets of questions. One is: should any product that might be beneficial be added to the drinking water? And secondly, should the specific product be added. The first question I think can be dismissed fairly easily. People who oppose adding enhancement to the drinking water in the way people opposed adding fluoride to the drinking water half a century ago rely on the false premise of naturalism—that because something occurs naturally it must be better.

Now many things that occur naturally are better, but that correlational, not causational. Pain is natural, anesthetics are synthetic. Most people would prefer anesthesia to pain. By the same logic, there are many things that naturally occur in the drinking water that are beneficial in some parts of the country that don’t cover other parts of the country. One of those items happens to be lithium. People who oppose adding lithium to the drinking water in trace amounts don’t go around advocating to strain the lithium from the drinking water in the areas where it does exist.

The specifics of lithium are rather interesting and I should add, I am not the first person to propose this idea. Peter Kramer floated this idea in the New York Times over a year ago, the Brown University psychiatrist, the author of “Listening to Prozac.” In areas where lithium in trace amounts is in the drinking water, there seems to be a lower level of suicidality and in the Texas counties that we’re studying, there’s actually a lower crime rate. The same studies were repeated in Japan, a completely different cultural milieu and they had the same result.

I should add that we are not talking about adding therapeutic levels of lithium to the drinking water. It’s worth noting that if you wanted to get a therapeutic level than the trace amounts that currently exist in the area where there is already lithium, you would have to drink several Olympic size swimming pools every minute to reach that level of concern. That level of therapeutics. So the reality is, these are very low levels and there’s no reason to think they are not safe in the areas they already exist, so why not give everybody that benefit?

Read the full response and watch the video at Big Think.

Written on August 5, 2010