If drugs can safely give the brain an increase, why not take them? Of course, if you don’t want to, why stop others?
In a era when attention-disorder drugs are regularly – and illegally – used for off-label purposes by people seeking a better grade or year-end job review, they are timely ethical questions.
The latest answer arises from Nature, where seven prominent ethicists and neuroscientists recently published a paper entitled, “Towards a responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs through the healthy.”
“Mentally competent adults,” they write, “will be able to take part in cognitive enhancement using drugs.”
Roughly seven percent of most university students, or higher to twenty percent of scientists, have used Ritalin or Adderall – originally created to treat attention-deficit disorders – to improve their mental performance.
Many people argue that chemical cognition-enhancement is a form of cheating. Others say that it’s unnatural. The Nature authors counter these charges: best brain health supplement are just cheating, they are saying, if prohibited with the rules – which need not be the situation. As for the drugs being unnatural, the authors argue, they’re no more unnatural than medicine, education and housing.
In many ways, the arguments are compelling. Nobody rejects pasteurized milk or dental anesthesia or central heating because it’s unnatural. And whether a mental abilities are altered by drugs, education or healthy eating, it’s being altered in the same neurobiological level. Making moral distinctions between the two is arbitrary.
But when a number of people use cognition-enhancing drugs, might all the others be forced to follow, whether they want to or otherwise?
If enough people enhance their performance, then improvement becomes the status quo. Brain-boosting drug use could develop into a basic job requirement.
Ritalin and Adderall, now ubiquitous as academic pick-me-ups, are merely the 1st generation of brain boosters. Next up is Provigil, a “wakefulness promoting agent” that lets people go for days without sleep, and improves memory on top of that. Better drugs will follow.
Because the Nature authors write, “cognitive enhancements affect the most complex and important human organ and the risk of unintended negative effects is therefore both high and consequential.” But even if their safety may be assured, what will happen when workers are likely to be effective at marathon bouts of high-functioning sleeplessness?
Many people I know already work 50 hours a week and battle to find time for friends, family as well as the demands of life. None prefer to become fully robotic to help keep their jobs. Thus I posed the question to
Michael Gazzaniga, a University of California, Santa Barbara, psychobiologist and Nature article co-author.
“It is actually easy to do all that with existing drugs,” he was quoted saying.
“One has to set their goals and know when you ought to tell their boss to get lost!”
Which is not, perhaps, by far the most practical career advice currently. And University of Pennsylvania neuroethicist Martha Farah, another of the paper’s authors, was actually a bit less sanguine.
“First the earlier adopters make use of the enhancements to acquire an edge. Then, as increasing numbers of people adopt them, those that don’t, feel they must in order to stay competitive as to what is, ultimately, a fresh higher standard,” she said.
Citing the now-normal stresses made by expectations of round-the-clock worker availability and inhuman powers of multitasking, Farah said, “There is definitely a risk of this dynamic repeating itself with cognition-enhancing drugs.”
But folks are already using them, she said. Some version of this scenario is inevitable – and the solution, she said, isn’t to easily point out that cognition enhancement is bad.
Instead we should develop better drugs, realize why people rely on them, promote alternatives and make sensible policies that minimize their harm.
As Gazzaniga also pointed out, “People might stop research on drugs which may well help forgetfulness within the elderly” – or cognition problems from the young – “as a result of concerns over misuse 75dexjpky abuse.”
This will definitely be unfortunate collateral damage these days theater of your War on Drugs – and also the question of brain enhancement should be observed in the context on this costly and destructive war. As Schedule II substances, Ritalin and Adderall are legally equivalent in the usa to opium or cocaine.
“These laws,” write the character authors, “needs to be adjusted to prevent making felons out of people who aim to use safe cognitive enhancements.”