When Biohacking Goes Wrong

Biohacking can be defined simply as performing experimental procedures on your own body for the purpose of enhancement. Operating outside the traditional lab or medical environment, biohackers exploit cutting-edge scientific theories and technologies to do things like ingest newly-synthesized drugs, perform self-surgery and even reformulate their DNA. While some experiments appear to be harmless, others can pose a risk to participants and the wider public if and when they go wrong.


It seems that just about any experiment related to body modification or health can be labeled as a “hack” these days. New and questionable diets that push the limits of scientific credibility are sometimes pushed by proponents as biohacking, for example. Dave Asprey, the CEO of Bulletproof Coffee, believes he has discovered a certain fountain of youth by supplementing foods and beverages with a coconut oil derivative called medium chain triglycerides, or MCT oil. Asprey claims that in addition to longevity, consuming MCT oil and following complementary measures like avoiding mycotoxins can lead to weight loss, more energy, a higher IQ and even cure infertility in women (e.g., his own wife). Critics who have tried eating and drinking the concoctions containing this dietary blend, however, report that they were instead left with a gross slick feeling on their tongue and nausea leading to vomiting.


Dietary fads aside, biohackers are fond of implanting devices in their bodies. These cyborg wannabes take wearable technology to the extreme, going under the knife to permanently or semi-permanently integrate accessories under their skin. Some of the more creative examples include implants like a magnetic compass for directional sensitivity and a device to help a man overcome his color-blindness by stimulating his occipital bone to resonate in his skull. Any surgery is potentially dangerous, but especially so if performed by untrained individuals operating in their bedrooms and garages.


Stepping up the risk factor, another biohacker has made a name for himself by injecting an experimental herpes treatment into his rear-end live during a conference. Josiah Zayner, the CEO of a biohacking firm called The ODIN, has also injected himself with a muscle-growth solution based on a DNA therapy called CRISPR. Zayner now regrets the direction of his work and its influence on others, saying in one interview with The Atlantic, “What it’s turned into now, people view it as a way to get press and get publicity and get famous. And people are going to get hurt. There’s no doubt in my mind that somebody is going to end up hurt eventually.”


Finally, one group is saying they have purified a virus to help people overcome lactose intolerance. Manufacturing viruses without proper oversight can obviously backfire in ways that put society at large in harm’s way.


It should go without saying, but DIY medicine, surgery, and body modification is just a bad idea. Independent “hackers” do not have the time, money and resources to dedicate to proper research to ensure safety. “The best medical providers will invest time in studying these new surgical options and analyzing which processes may ensure the safest results for their patients,” says Rich Newsome, a surgical malpractice lawyer. But it turns out that, for some people, that lengthy time invested in research is exactly why they take matters into their own hands.