Cognitive Enhancement Drugs

23:57 Sun 09 Mar 2008. Updated: 11:44 10 Mar 2008
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The New York Times writes about the rising wave of cognitive enhancement pharmaceutical use, bringing to mind Alan Glynn’s novel The Dark Fields, which explores the territory in an interesting and disturbing way.

The UK Guardian also covered the topic late last year, with an article I consider more in-depth than the NYT one. One of the amazing things about the NYT article is that it doesn’t mention anywhere that one of the drugs it’s discussing, Adderall, is an amphetamine. Most of the ADD/ADHD drugs are amphetamines, although Provigil, the other drug mentioned in the NYT article, is not.

I’m not particularly concerned about ‘cheating’ via this kind of enhancement (although Paul Phillips’ claim that it helped him win $2.3 mill at poker is quite interesting), but rather much more concerned about the long-term side effects. Perhaps it’s just my pessimistic nature, but I suspect that screwing around with the brain is still a very crude operation, and that drugs like these could induce various kinds of burnout, as well as unknown and unpredictable other effects.

On the other hand, it’s exciting, too—the idea of being able to take harmless drugs that enhance cognitive function is naturally rather appealing, although perhaps not those which seem (at least according to the NYT) to turn people into irritated and angry while focused. The NYT also brings up an excellent point: if these drugs really do increase concentration and productivity, then employers might start to insist on them. Of course, it will most likely never be explicit as the article suggests, but rather the performance bar will be set high enough that employees will flock to these drugs as the only way to cope. Which appears to be happening already, hence the need for an article covering the subject.

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