Neuroenhancing

A friend on Facebook, who happens to still be in college posted a link to an article in The New Yorker about healthy people taking stimulant drugs (such as Adderall and Ritalin) intended for treatment of ADHD as “neuroenhancers”. The article goes into detail about some specific uses by people interviewed, as well as some of the studies done on the subject. It also outlined some of the potential ethical concerns with their use.

The consensus positive of the drugs is that they enable the user to focus more intently on a given task, for a longer period of time. Some of the negatives are unknown, but it seems that at least one is that some of the drug can have a damping effect on creative thinking. Another is that if the user takes one of the drugs with the intent to focus on a paper, but instead decides to start sorting their cd collection, they will expend that extended period of intense focus on that task, and not get to the originally intended task. Another negative is that the drugs can be potentially addictive. The article also stated that it seemed that the drugs worked better on below average people to bring them up to normal/above average productivity far more effectively than elevating the performance of already above average individuals.

In the area of ethics, the article compared the use of such drugs to plastic surgery, and one of the users interviewed said it would not be accurate to compare their use to that of steroids by athletes. I am inclined to disagree. I think that it is exactly the same as athletes using steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. Both parties use said drugs to get ahead in their chosen field of endeavor, be it athletics, academics, or whatever their corporate field and I think that is wrong. I do however feel – in agreement with one of the people interviewed, Nicholas Seltzer (I believe) – that whether or not an adult person uses such drugs should not be a legal matter, in that said users are not infringing on anyone else’s rights by doing so.

I believe there are some negative effects of “neuroenhancing” not mentioned in the article. First of all, I would say that many people use the drugs in a manner that is harmful relationally. They allow the user, who is most likely already somewhat of a workaholic, to extend their working time, therefore further decreasing their time spent with family and friends and damaging those relationships. Secondly I suspect the drugs are harmful emotionally. The article stated that part of their effectiveness seems to come from artificially created dopamine. When artificially created dopamine enters the brain, if the brain becomes over whelmed with dopamine, it turns off dopamine receptors and/or produces less natural dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical in your brain responsible for feelings of pleasure. If your dopamine receptors are turned off, or your naturally occurring dopamine levels are decreased you will experience pleasure in life less often and to a lesser degree. (This is what happens to cocaine/meth/other drug addicts.) Also, in the end I believe you will experience a net loss in cognitive ability. Finally, there may be physical detriments, since these “neuroenhancing” drugs are stimulants, they will have the same negative affect on the body that other stimulants have over time. To what level they have these affects has yet to be shown.

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3 Responses to “Neuroenhancing”

  1. Ashleigh Says:

    I liked what you wrote. There are a lot of negative side effects to taking Adderall. I read this article with a somewhat different view to most that read it, I think. I do take it when I am crammed with work. It does help me focus and get things done. But, you’re right–I can get easily distracted and use that extra ‘focus’ on something trivial that is in no way related to my task at hand. I get super anal about my surroundings and everything has to be clean. If it isn’t, I still can’t focus. So, I view Adderall both negatively and positively. I don’t want to take it. I only take it if I am in a time crunch and know that there is no possible way for me to stay awake all night long when I know that I have to. It seems like a necessary evil, and in turn, that sounds like an excuse. I only use it a few times during midterm/finals time, and even then, I feel its effects-both negative and positive. I have absolutely no appetite, can’t seem to keep my legs from shaking, my sentences run into each other and are sometimes incomprehensible, sometimes I end up staying awake longer than I’d like and get no sleep at all, and once I ended up getting sick for 2 weeks straight because my body had no rest for 3 days straight. But, I also always finish my work and get it in on time, which I would otherwise not be able to do in some instances. I’ve seen the abuse and the addiction here on campus. Girls are taking it to suppress their appetites and lose weight, guys are snorting it and drinking to become even more intoxicated than they already are. It’s kind of sad. I feel that if the world of academia and the job market weren’t so competitive, and the pressures and deadlines professors/departments weren’t so stressful, students in particular wouldn’t have to result to these measures and the drug wouldn’t be ending up in our hands. I know I wouldn’t take it if I weren’t worried about trying to get a 4.0, hold a job, and do everything extra so that I get into law school.

    • There’s certainly a difference between using a drug like this on an occasional basis like you described, and extended regular use as described by some of the people in the article. And even further difference for people that use it for weight loss or to enhance their partying. I personally would not take adderall (I used to take Ritalin b/c I was diagnosed as a kid as ADHD, but replaced it with coffee and self control in the 8th grade because I didn’t like not eating.), but I have taken things like Rhodiola or Siberian Energ (not an Amway endorsement, just they were where I got it from) which can have similar effects, but can be obtained legally. I didn’t use them for studying, but for driving across the country, but they got the job done, and I was still able to sleep when I decided to.

      Thanks for your input.

  2. Theresa S. Says:

    There is a lot here to comment on, but I will only aim for a small portion of this topic. As far as children are concerned, I think it is possible that some children have difficulties in concentrating and could be diagnosed with ADHD. But I think that label has become far too easy to stamp someone with.

    Aspiring to teach & being interested in education has allowed me some time to observe & do a practicum in an elementary classroom. One of the teachers I worked with did a phenomenal job with having to maintain 25+ kids, but the truth is – children are not always allowed that creative outlet that they may need. And more importantly, there are different learning styles and as much as the teacher may try to cover all of those learning styles in their lesson plan, reality is, they can’t. So even though the learning style in which they teach reading may appeal to a student; the learning style that they use for math may not enable the student to understand at all.
    Working with middle schoolers for several years taught me that even they only have an attention span of about 15min & that’s changing the topic or point every 3-5. Imagine how much shorter a 7yr old’s must be. School systems are very rigid & must be as far as behavior mgmt is concerned, but that has an effect on the students. A 7yr old not being able to sit, bottom-down in their chair for 45min at a time to get through a lesson should not automatically qualify him/her to be ADHD.

    Like I said, there could be a ton more to talk about on this topic, but I felt like I had plenty to say about that alone 🙂 lol

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