Archive for neuroenhancing


Posted in general rant with tags on April 27, 2009 by Justin

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.