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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Performance Enhanced

posted by on December 27 at 14:40 PM

Something to think about if you had coffee this morning:

Despite the potential side effects, academics, classical musicians, corporate executives, students and even professional poker players have embraced the drugs to clarify their minds, improve their concentration or control their emotions.

“There isn’t any question about it — they made me a much better player,” said Paul Phillips, 35, who credited the attention deficit drug Adderall and the narcolepsy pill Provigil with helping him earn more than $2.3 million as a poker player.

The medicine cabinet of so-called cognitive enhancers also includes Ritalin, commonly given to schoolchildren for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and beta blockers, such as the heart drug Inderal. Researchers have been investigating the drug Aricept, which is normally used to slow the decline of Alzheimer’s patients.

The scientific and medical community starts asking questions:

Although the appeal of pharmaceutical cognitive enhancers to help one study longer, work more effectively or better manage everyday stresses is understandable, potential users, both healthy and diseased, must consider the pros and cons of their choices. To enable this, scientists, doctors and policy-makers should provide easy access to information about the advantages and dangers of using cognitive-enhancing drugs and set out clear guidelines for their future use.

The Nature editorial goes on to ask a few good questions:

When imagining the possible influences of efficient cognitive enhancers on society as a whole, there can be many positive effects. Such drugs may enable individuals to perform better and enjoy more achievements and success. However, cognitive enhancers may have a darker side. Fears have been raised of an overworked 24/7 society pushed to the limits of human endurance, or of direct and indirect coercion into taking such drugs. If other children at school or colleagues at work are taking cognitive-enhancing drugs, will you feel pressure to give them to your children or take them yourself? What if a perfectly safe and reliable cognitive enhancer existed, could society deny it to healthy individuals who may benefit from it?

If others at school are taking these drugs, will you feel pressure to give them to your children?

At present, relatively safe cognitive enhancers with clear effects in healthy individuals are available. Today, in healthy individuals, most cognitive-enhancing drugs yield only moderate effects, and enhance only a subset of cognitive abilities. In the case of some drugs, such as methylphenidate, there are improvement in some domains such as attention, but there may be impairments in others, such as previously learned spatial tasks. Consequently, we believe that current debates must focus on the risks and harms at the level of the individual.

(emphasis added.)

How do a surprising number of medical professionals and academics vote with their own bodies?

In academia, we know that a number of our scientific colleagues in the United States and the United Kingdom already use modafinil to counteract the effects of jetlag, to enhance productivity or mental energy, or to deal with demanding and important intellectual challenges…For many, it seems that the immediate and tangible benefits of taking these drugs are more persuasive than concerns about legal status and adverse effects.

Compare this relatively nuanced discussion—tilting heavily in favor of safe, legal and inexpensive access to brain-enhancing drugs—to the hysteria around body enhancing drugs in athletics.

Do we value the mind more or less than the body? What would you take?

DB makes an interesting point:

Body enhancing drugs (mostly) only benefit the user, where as mind enhancing drugs have more potential to enhance society.

RSS icon Comments



Great post. Unlike many of the lengthy stranger blog posts, this one I read in its entirety (sans coffee or other drugs). To respond, however, i may need a little thinking-cap help...

Posted by reader #234 | December 27, 2007 3:01 PM

Drugs kick ass.

Posted by Mr. Poe | December 27, 2007 3:11 PM

Not sure we value the mind or body differently, but the body-enhancing drugs seem to all carry some substantial negative risk - which, at first blush, the mind-enhancing drugs do not have.

Posted by chas Redmond | December 27, 2007 3:13 PM

@3. I considered that point as well; I'm just not sure it's true.

More is known about the long-term safety of taking testosterone than many of the mind-enhancing drugs. The risks with steroids mostly have to do with their illegality.

For all we know, decades of modafinil use might totally fry the brain.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | December 27, 2007 3:26 PM

In The Best American Non-Required Reading there was a story defending Barry Bonds's use of performance-enhancing drugs, and it was probably the only sports-related thing I've ever found interesting all the way through. The basic premise is that he spent years and years working harder than most people can imagine, then as age started taking its toll on his body, and as other players used drugs for an edge, he took the drugs to remain competitive, to keep using all the skill and talent he'd been building for years. It was a fairly compelling argument.

I don't believe in performance-enhancing drugs in any arena, sports or intellectual; I'm more impressed by what we can achieve by force of will and magnitude of talent. I would not take either, but consider myself to be in the minority when it comes to avoidance of mind/body-altering substances. You raise excellent questions that more people will need to consider, and soon.

Posted by Aislinn | December 27, 2007 3:35 PM

I take 30-60mg of Inderal daily, prescribed by my doctor for hypertension. As an added bonus I find myself more focused at work and much less likely to be stressed out by small annoyances, like asshats jaywalking.

Posted by JoeCool | December 27, 2007 3:36 PM

Several of my friends know Paul Phillips personally. The use of cognitive enhancements for competitive gaming has been discussed in our communities over the past decade.

I would take vinpocetine.

Posted by I love my hourlong commute | December 27, 2007 3:54 PM

I would never walk. I would take a car.

Posted by Dr Seuss | December 27, 2007 4:05 PM

I will stick to my caffeine for work-performance-enhancing, ibuprofen for non-headache-having-enhancing, and alcohol for sexual-desire-enhancing-and-performance-dis-enhancing.

Posted by Greg | December 27, 2007 4:06 PM

Body enhancing drugs (mostly) only benefit the user, where as mind enhancing drugs have more potential to enhance society.

Posted by db | December 27, 2007 5:07 PM

One important thing is that mind-enhancing drugs aren't used in a competition. With athletics, allowing drugs would result in more of a scientific or research competition: Win the race by inventing the best drug cocktail.

Also to my understanding, as was said, steroids really fuck you up.

Posted by John | December 27, 2007 11:42 PM

John: I would beg to differ. There are many professional careers which require fiercely competitive examinations (or series thereof). Those in such careers are--or going to in the foreseeable future--going to be feeling the pressure from their drug-fueled competitors.

Similarly, there's competition in offices. Who hasn't heard of young lawyers pounding out work virtually 24/7 to get ahead, mainly fueled by some form of ADHD drug?

Now ... if only I could get a doc to prescribe 'em to me.

Posted by ben | December 28, 2007 11:04 AM

final thought?
What would happen if bonds used mind enhancing drugs in addition to is well documented that ballplayers use/used amphetamines to enhance game-time concentration/ reacations...Combining the mental ability to super-concentrate with the ability to physically perform at higher levels would be...good?

Posted by hmmm.. | December 28, 2007 12:57 PM

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