Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Neuroenhancers -- they are coming to a student near you

The New Yorker reports on the new neuroenhancers.
In the 1970s, students used amphetamines of various kinds to stay awake to write papers and study for exams. In the 1990s and 2000s, students have been using Ritalin and Adderall as a stimulant to . . . help write papers and study for exams.

What new chemicals are in the pipeline? Modafinil. Provigil. Nuvigil. Some call this "cosmetic neurology." This important article reports on these drugs and their growing use.

This article tells us about a professional poker player, businessman, think tank analyst, and others using some of these new compounds. The author concludes with some terrific questions and observations about the connection society has with its drugs. What was the significance of marijuana, LSD, peyote and mushrooms for the 1960s and 1970s as shapers and definers of the culture and its subcultures? What was the significance of cocaine in the early 1980s? Or the spread of Starbucks and caffeine in the 90s and 2000s?

Cosmetic neurology seems to be about enhancing productivity in a culture that already rarely stops working.

How much benefit do these drugs confer? Of all the various kinds of mental functions and gifts there are, which are enhanced and how? Who might benefit the most? One researcher at the University of Pennsylvania has conducted some studies that suggest that those who benefit the most from these drugs may be those who are the least gifted mentally to start with. Hmmm.

If we are genuinely the knowledge-based economy we claim we are, shouldn't national policy encourage experimentation with these compounds to find those that are most effective, and encourage the use of those?

For several years, I've suggested to the Drug Policy Alliance that this subject be on the agenda of the International Drug Policy Conference. Perhaps this November.

NIDA warns -- these drugs can stimulate dopamine release, and that means -- dum te dum dum -- they might be addictive.

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