Biohacking, also known as DIY biology, is a psuedo-science/ alternative medicine/ biotechnological social movement that includes a dizzying number of practices including infrared light baths, drinking “salt juice,” tracking your sleep and biorhythms, cryotherapy, stem cell injections, taking nootropics, gathering neurofeedback, float tanks, dopamine fasting, intermittent fasting, chip implanting, or even pumping a younger person's blood into your own veins with the hope it will fight aging, and more. People do these things for many reasons from health and healing, to being as smart and strong as possible, to being healthy, smart and strong as possible for as long as possible - think a human life spanning hundreds of years (Gerontologist Aubrey de Grey claims the first person to live to be 1,000 years old has already been born)! The general industry seems to be pointed toward leapfrogging the restrictions of our own human biology to increase longevity (lifespan) and power (both physical and cognitive).
What’s the difference between biohacking and traditional medicine? This will depend on who you ask, too, but at face value not much. Anything from spinning to meditation and fasting to taking mood stabilizing drugs can be considered biohacking as well as have a place in traditional or mainstream medicine and treatment plans. The differentiator between the two is primarily the mindset, or approach one takes to the administration of the techniques. Yet to some, biohacking IS modern medicine. The most modern, actually, in that it’s pushing boundaries in and around the medical community and the general public’s understanding of it. The only problem with a number of biohacking practices is the lack of scientific support and evidence of their efficacy. Sure, there is research to substantiate claims that meditation promotes wellness, but as you dive further into the front lines of the biohacking community, it gets a little … less grounded. There are also widespread practices in the community of selectively choosing studies to support positive claims while ignoring those that discredit, as well as using research that has only used animal testing to extrapolate claims to human nutrition.
But public awareness is increasing and interest is slowly piquing. Biohacking still has major fringe elements, but the lionshare is hardly fringe anymore. The most popular podcaster on the planet Joe Rogan is well known for his support of the use of psychedelics. Elon Musk via Neuralink wants to implant mind-reading tech chips into human brains so we can cognitively compete with AI. Celebrity biohacker and former NASA engineer Josiah Zayner injected Cripsr, a gene editing compound, into his own arm at a conference. Tony Robbins website promotes cryotherapy, red light therapy, compression therapy, osteostrong, intermittent fasting, functional music, gratitude practices and supplements for health and longevity. So I guess the question isn’t so much, “Who is biohacking?” But more, “Who isn’t?” And will the mainstream fitness community ever accept that their non-FDA approved supplements are in the same general therapeutic category as gene-mods and young blood therapy? It makes for a great hashtag, after all.
Of the “controversies” surrounding biohacking--aside from some of the more extreme forms of it like implanting identification chips and injecting yourself with experimental “treatments” that claim to treat herpes and HIV and cure AIDS--a primary one is that it is performed and researched by some (though not all) without traditional PhD’s, and some (though not all) of these enthusiasts can be a bit extreme with their self-testing. The refusal to accept our bodies shortcomings, and instead blasting past them with experimental bioengineering is a very specific challenge for a very specific type of mind, and involves a certain amount of risk.
For all the risk and seeming skirting of regulation found in the biohacking community, one may be negligent not to ask, “Is all of this … legal?” (How can it NOT be illegal to perform a fecal transplant in a hotel bathroom on youtube?) Well, yes and no, it seems, and sometimes neither. Biohacking and the practices contained therein are in somewhat of a regulatory grey area: frowned upon by bodies like the FDA, but not quite illegal. The regulations haven’t kept up with the field, none of them were built to. In some extreme cases, the FDA has stepped in, but for the most part, biohackers are trekking uncharted territory and the regulations are clamoring far behind.
After an overview like that, biohacking probably seems pretty extreme and peripheral, but in reality and for the most part it is a more conservative though “crunchy” approach to health and longevity (and not the kind that keeps you kicking for an actual millenium). Cryotherapy, light therapy, meditation, nootropics, diet fads, supplements, ayahuasca retreats etc. are all relatively common and generally safe (though variably effective) methods of biohacking available to the health conscious public, and there is an abundance of information available for each to make their own decisions on what to try and why.
If you’re really interested in biohacking, check out some of the presentations given at BodyHacking Con (Upgrade: Recharge your Cells, Recharge your Life) in Austin, Texas last weekend for all the latest on everything from cellular health (Dave Asprey, VIP speaker) to circadian rhythms (Megan Soffer) to hacking your sexual energy (Kim Anami), a fasting panel (Dr. Will Cole, Dr. Jason Fung, Dr. Alan Goldhamer, Dr. Amy Shah) and The Fantastic Effect of Psychedelics Psychotherapy (Dr. Phil Wolfson). Then ask yourself, is manipulating biology actually unnatural? Or is it the most natural thing we humans can do? Is biohacking merely evolution in the tech era?