John Salamone, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Connecticut with a background in neural and behavioral pharmacology, has been working with the drug company Chronos Therapeutics to develop a drug that can restore motivation in people who have lost it — whether that’s due to the symptoms of depression, struggle with disease, or otherwise.

He unveiled his early results on rats this month in a presentation at the Society For Neuroscience’s conference in San Diego, where he tells Inverse his board was bustling with activity.

“Basically we stood there for four hours and were busy the entire time,” says Salamone. The reception was overwhelmingly positive, he adds. “We didn’t have anyone say ‘This is crazy! This will never work!’”

The video above shows how the newly developed drug affects the same brain mechanism as cocaine, but a different type of buildup in the synapse occurs.

“Cocaine rapidly acts on that transporter, so people get a rush when they use cocaine. The dopamine shoots up and then it shoots down,” Salamone tells Inverse. “So you get this very rapid neurochemical change, and it turns out that rapid neurochemical change is something that people who abuse drugs go for.”

This is the danger of working in this realm of drug discovery. Whenever you mess with dopamine, you run the risk of creating a drug that can make people dependent on that high.

This drug is in the earliest stages of research. It’s only been given to animals, and there are no plans for human clinical trials in the immediate future. But we can still at least entertain the idea of how a motivational drug might send ripple effects throughout society.

Salamone agrees that a motivation drug could have an allure to the public. That’s not his current intention, though, and he is still a long way from testing this concept on humans.

Right now, Salamone is searching for more grants to help solidify his concept. He hopes that its potential for abuse might be mitigated by the slower, more gradual effects.

You might also find this Inverse video interesting.