Ethics of Neuroenhancers

In some professions as well as in many schools, people are turning to using Adderall and Provigil pills in order to be competitive.   This becomes a moral and ethics issue.  Is it acceptable that students and society are turning to pills to improve performance? What is that saying about our society as a whole?

In April’s New Yorker magazine article, it mentioned that some drugs that are used to treat ADHD such as Ritalin, are being used as cognitive enhancers.  These pills are being taken by people in highly competitive environments such as colleges and highly competitive and high-pressure professions such as Management Consulting.

I have a friend who is currently in law school, which is a highly competitive environment because students are vying for the top 10% of their class.  She has told me that it is quite common for students to use Adderall and Ritalin.  She says people would combine these with energy drinks for-all nighters or to improve their concentration.  Since it is such a common practice, pills readily available either through buying these pills from other students or by diagnosing oneself as having ADHD.

This is a quote from one of the students who takes Adderall:

One of the most impressive features of being a student is how aware you are of a twenty-four-hour work cycle. When you conceive of what you have to do for school, it’s not in terms of nine to five but in terms of what you can physically do in a week while still achieving a variety of goals in a variety of realms—social, romantic, sexual, extracurricular, résumé-building, academic commitments.”

Since these pills are a common place, aren’t users afraid of side-effects?  Many students know other students who in their childhood took those drugs, and were diagnosed with ADHD, this minimizes the fear.

The market for neuroenhancers is staggering.  From students to working professionals to aging people who do not want to lose their memory to small children, so they can be placed in the best schools.  Sales of Provigil, a stimulant, known generically as modafinil used to treat narcolepsy, had increased tremendously from $196 million in 2002 to $980 million in 2008.

The New Yorker magazine gave an example of a professional poker player who uses both Provigil and Adderall to stay focussed for fourteen hours at a time for several days.

In 2002, there was a study done at Cambridge University.  60 young male volunteers were split into two groups:  one took placebos before performing some cognitive tests, and the others took modafinil. The test results showed that the subjects that took modafinil excelled in the cognitive tasks.

If one took these pills, then it would give one a competitive advantage over those who do not take these pills.  An argument from the article was taking these pills would extend work productivity, and help people’s memory as they age.  Another point was if other countries were permitting the use of those drugs, wouldn’t this put our country at a disadvantage?

I feel that taking an artificial pill as a neuroenhancer is a poor idea, it is because these pills contain Dopamine, which can lead to the addictions.  I do not want to live in a society where to survive daily, a pill needs to be taken.  If one’s country cannot compete in a given area, then change focus and innovate.  There are many potential areas to be developed.  On the other hand, if a student at school takes these pills, it puts the other students at a disadvantage.  Perhaps if it is so wide-spread, maybe drug testing maybe needed.

I want to know what you think.  Do you think it is ethical to rely on these pills in order for one to compete at school or at work?  Do you think companies that capitalize on this latent demand are ethical?

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2 responses to “Ethics of Neuroenhancers

  1. I am also initially hesitant to support the idea that society should support the use of mind-enhancing substances. That said, we have already endorsed caffeine as a culturally acceptable neuro-stimulant en masse, a drug upon which a huge percentage of the population is clinically addicted. Nobody is arguing that this has been a detriment to society (at least to this society, we could say otherwise of the cultures which have been exploited to produce this much drug so cheaply). Anyway, culturally we are already addicted to a vast number of things, not the least of which are speed, accomplishment and productivity. The drug issue is secondary, I think–just the side effects of some larger cultural ideologies that rule our collective consciousness.

    • Thanks James for your comment. I completely agree with your thoughts. This cultural ideology that rules our collective consciousness may have to do with the advent of greater information that is readily available as well as the increased speed to which the information is available. Both of these factors probably affect the human psyche. As you mentioned, coffee as a stimulant helps feeds this. The drugs which are being misused becomes part of the slippery slope to more adverse affects than the consumption of caffeine. Ethically if society approves of this, people of all ages may have to rely on these just to be competitive.

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