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What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

An opinion piece published online in Nature examines the illicit use of “brain-boosting” drugs like Adderall and Ritalin by college students, and concludes…that we should totally do more of that.

The seven authors–at least two of whom are consultants for pharmaceutical companies–argue that we “should welcome new methods of improving our brain function,” and say that doing it with pills is no more morally objectionable than eating right or getting a good night’s sleep. They sort of gloss over the fact that getting a good night’s sleep doesn’t come with a warning label (unlike Adderall, which carries warnings about the possibility of sudden death, heart attack, or stroke).

I think they kind of buried the lede, where the authors note that steps would have to be taken to ensure that the benefits of these drugs didn’t make socio-economic inequalities worse. There have already been a few reported cases of overly gung-ho parents dosing their healthy children with Ritalin in order to give them an edge in school; it’s not hard to envision a scenario where unmedicated kids wind up with a competetive disadvantage in school and employment.

Should we allow unfettered access to this type of brain-boosting drug? We already alter our brain function with drugs like caffeine; is this really all that different? If having unregulated brain chemistry becomes a great liability, wouldn’t parents be remiss if they didn’t help their kids compete? A lot of SF examines this kind of human bootstrapping; perhaps this is the first step to a real-life Uplift. Or maybe it’s just a really, really bad idea.

What do you think?

Posted in News, Science December 9th, 2008 by Chip
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