Scientists in the United Kingdom are proposing to lace drinking water supplies with the psychoactive drug lithium to prevent people from committing suicide amid the distress of the coronavirus pandemic.
Research published in The British Journal of Psychiatry suggests that the use of lithium, which is often prescribed as a mood stabilizer, can result in a lower suicide rate.
"It is promising that higher levels of trace lithium in drinking water may exert an anti-suicidal effect and have the potential to improve community mental health," said Anjum Memon, lead author and epidemiology chair at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, in a press release.
Seeing as some water already naturally contains low amounts of lithium, implementing "randomized community trials" in areas with a high risk of mental conditions such as suicide is an idea worth experimenting, scientists conclude.
In order to avoid any sort of placebo effect, scientists wish to administer the trials by quietly introducing lithium to water supplies.
While the stealth lacing introduces obvious ethical dilemmas, researchers insist they be allowed to proceed with the trials.
"The levels of lithium in drinking water are far lower than those recommended when lithium is used as medicine although the duration of exposure may be far longer, potentially starting at conception. These findings are also consistent with the finding in clinical trials that lithium reduces suicide and related behaviors in people with a mood disorder," said Allan Young, professor and chair of Mood Disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London.