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03/23/2008

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Seeking Oracle

O' Great One,

Will cognitive enhancing drugs make me smart enough not to take cognitive enhancing drugs? Or do I need wisdom enhancing drugs? And should I call my physician if my cognitive enhancement lasts longer than four hours?

Tom

Modafinil and Provigil are actually the same thing - the first is the active ingredient in the second. Adderall is an amphetamine and is a very different drug. Aderall is used to treat depression, while one of the side effects of Provigil is depression.

Peter Kasting

As an individual naturally gifted with a high intellect I'd like to note that, contrary to the last paragraph here, I do not object to "artificial" enhancements that would allow others to better compete with me (though I might be concerned if I was forbidden to take those enhancements as well if I wished).

Seeking Oracle

Peter,

I agree perhaps for a different reason. All drugs cause undesirable side effects particularly with chronic use. I need only compete, therefore, with people like you since chronic drug users will eventually not have much cognition to enhance. Ah, evolution.

Nathan

Modafinil and Provigil are the same drug.

BGC

I strongly agree with Posner that people should be able to use cognitive enhancing drugs if they so wish.

The current evidence seems to suggest that these drugs improve cognition more in lower- than higher- performers.

If correct this does indeed suggest that cognitive-enhancing drugs would increase competition for the naturally-gifted cognitive elite (who, probably for this reason, seem to be the most powerful group who currently oppose cognitive enhancing drugs).

And, of course, cognitively-enhancing drugs are almost universally used - in forms such as caffeine and nicotine. For example, strong coffee at lunch time 'artificially' overcomes (for many people) the spontaneous tendency to have a siesta in the afternoon - allowing better concentration and more work to be accomplished.

A further irony is that many people who oppose (often by ridicule) the idea of smart drugs, themselves use powerful dumb drugs such as alcohol.

BGC

I strongly agree with Posner that people should be able to use cognitive enhancing drugs if they so wish.

The current evidence seems to suggest that these drugs improve cognition more in lower- than higher- performers.

If correct this does indeed suggest that cognitive-enhancing drugs would increase competition for the naturally-gifted cognitive elite (who, probably for this reason, seem to be the most powerful group who currently oppose cognitive enhancing drugs).

And, of course, cognitively-enhancing drugs are almost universally used - in forms such as caffeine and nicotine. For example, strong coffee at lunch time 'artificially' overcomes (for many people) the spontaneous tendency to have a siesta in the afternoon - allowing better concentration and more work to be accomplished.

A further irony is that many people who oppose (often by ridicule) the idea of smart drugs, themselves use powerful dumb drugs such as alcohol.

Diversity

Is it ethical to try to keep our species even less intelligent than it could be?

The challenge to academics from cognitive stimulants is surely three fold:

1. Academics need to identify which aspects of cognition are stimulated.

2. Those academics concerned with selecting the best students and marking academic performance need to design their tests to minimise the marks that can be gained by using the aspects stimulated.

3. Other academics can then set about finding means to stimulate the aspects not so far stimulated.

The challenge to the phamaceutical industry is to meet demand by producing effective stimulating agents which do not pose a threat to health. That demand is likely to be huge. How many companies will want to offer stuff that is approved safe free to their staff?

The first challenge to Government is to make sure that the initial versions of the drugs carry the appropriate health warnings, and to ensure that they are not addictive. Why in the world should they do more? There is an expected net benefit to society from using these agents, while any losses are likely to fall on the private user who has made a free, informed choice.

The second challenge to Government will be to find means to ensure that poor people who could benefit from them are not denied access to the agents, and at the same time to promote the market process producing ever-safer and ever cheaper agents.

It would appear unethical for each party concerned not to try to meet these challenges. Failing to do so would damage their fellow citizens. While these agents are not freely available, there will be an ethical problem in people trying to deny them to potential competitors while using them themselves. Well- organised markets solve such problems by promoting wider availability.

SteveSC

Scientific studies have shown pretty much equivalent effects of modafinil (Provigil), amphetamine, and caffeine at the appropriate doses (do a search of modafinil and caffeine on PubMed). So it appears that Cephalon is doing a great job of marketing what is basically an expensive extra large cup of coffee.

Even if there really was a 'smart' pill, in the worst case scenario the patent would run out in 10-15 years, the demand would create robust competition, which would drive prices down near marginal cost of pennies per pill. And presumably, if most everyone could buy smarts, the world would be a better place. Well, maybe in theory...

Samir Chopra

I agree that it does not make such sense to ban intellect-enhancing drugs, mainly for the reason that it is not possible (even more than in the athletic case) to draw sensible demarcations between "natural" and "unnatural" enhancing. We know too little about cognitive functioning to do so.

Scott

Your words have the bulging typeface of a juicer. Come clean!

Steve Eugster

Perhaps of some relevance to the topic is this quote from B. Pascal:

"Too much and too little wine. Give him none, he cannot find truth; give him too much, the same."

Justin Donoho

At the University of Chicago Law School, which grades students according to a strict bell curve in most classes, less than one student per year graduates with Highest Honors. If it were discovered that one such student used intelligence enhancing drugs, should the Law School put an asterisk next to Highest Honors on the student's transcript? (Assume that monitoring were cost-feasible and that intelligence doping with certain drugs is more than just a "borderline" case than say coffee.)

Ryan W.

I've looked into various nootropic drugs. Most of them are essentially 'speed' and the racetams (piracetam, etc.) temporarily destroyed my verbal ability. But perhaps they work better on other people. (preloading with acetylcholine is essential and I question the tendency of people using an 'attack dose' to start out, but that's another story.) As was mentioned previously, a lot of these drugs are just another form of coffee.

I'm fine with people getting ahead by whatever means possible. I just seriously question how much nootropics really do for most people aside from perhaps making them temporarily more alert. Now if there was a way to undo tolerance-formation with amphetamines, that would be interesting. It's possible, theoretically, to separate opiods from their addictive effect if they are properly designed. And vitamin C does so to some small degree naturally. So tolerance is not mandatory for all classes of drugs. But I've looked into this a bit and we don't seem to be anywhere close to making most other drug classes non-addictive or non-tolerance forming.

Until then, count me out.

Ryan W.

p.s. I shouldn't have excluded nicotine, which is very different from speed ( an nicotinic -acetylcholinergic ) but considering how addictive that is I've avoided it like the plague.


Lysine ( an amino acid ) was sometimes helpful to me. I'm not sure if it's because it boosts my immune system or if it's because it metabolizes to acetyl-CoA providing an acetyl group for the formation of acetylcholine. But that's more a matter of nutrition at that point than drug use.

Likewise, a lot of GABA-ergic drugs can help improve sleep structure in those who are deficient.

Bacopa was mildly helpful for me personally, and most herbs that increase dreaming will enhance memory.

It'd be silly to ban substances like the latter since they are mostly therapeutic and do not, as far as I'm aware, take people outside of any normal parameters.

Richard Mason

Balzac laid out a routine for maximizing performance enhancement from caffeine, that culminated in eating ground coffee beans, without water, on an empty stomach. He himself recognized that he was risking his health in the pursuit of art.

I would say that we should put an asterisk by Balzac's number of novels (career and single season) but I find that the official record (i.e., Wikipedia) actually chooses to be a little vague on Balzac's statistics ("almost 100" novels and plays in the Comedie Humaine).

Sean Siekkinen

Judge Posner's succinct take on the steroid controversy hits every point and is precisely what I've been saying for years now, largely to deaf ears. Thank you for the validation.

TV

I've been using Adderall in reasonably high doses for many years precisely because it makes me a far better lawyer, so obviously I have no problem with people using these drugs.

But people seem to mistakenly believe that Adderall makes you smarter, in the sense that you can understand more concepts with Adderall than you otherwise could. This is not true at all. Adderall and other so-called "intelligence-enhancing drugs" simply allow you apply your intelligence in with complete and uninterrupted concentration for extended periods of time.

It's a bit like Red-Light/Green-Light, where getting to the finish line is the equivalent of fully understanding a concept. When you're applying your intelligence, you are moving forward; when you are not applying your intelligence -- that is, your mind turns to something else, even for the slightest amount of time -- you are stopped. Adderall is like a permanent green light: you never stop moving forward. Without Adderall, you would almost certainly have to stop at least once, and probably many more times. A child will get to the finish line faster with a permanent green light will than he would with a few red lights along the way, but that doesn't mean that the permanent green light enhanced his natural speed; it just allowed him to apply his natural speed without interruption.

When I'm off Adderall, I can understand everything that I understand when I'm on Adderall. Does Adderall enhance my performance? Absolutely. Does it enhance my range of legal and non-legal knowledge? Yes, because it allows me to work significantly longer hours and read significantly more. But does it enhance my intelligence? No.

Michael

As a young student these sorts of drugs sound very tempting, although I have not used them myself... yet. I don't feel that I would need them to enhance my natural intelligence, and from what I've read of modafinil in particular it doesn't seem to have such an affect. Rather I would use it to improve my attentiveness and increase my work capacity, much in the way "TV" (you must hate your parents) argues.

St. Darwin Assissi's cat

Another thought provoking post, thank you. Drugs are drugs. Does it matter what is making a person an addict, i.e. the motivation? Brings to mind Anna Nicole Smith (the dead sex bearing football star).

jeff

I am not against these types of drugs, but have to wonder. Does it become a crutch? Can people that use them perform adequately with out them?

Jake

Judge Posner's consequentialism is beginning to verge on nihilism.

TV

Jeff, I can offer first-hand answers to your questions:

Does it become a crutch? Yes.

Can people that use them perform adequately with out them? No.

I take no more than I'm prescribed, but over time I've become completely dependent on Adderall for work. This was a risk that was not adequately explained to me before going on it. While I certainly don't regret going on Adderall, I would have liked to have known what I was getting myself into.

In my opinion, the inability to perform adequately without it is by far the worst side-effect. What's worse, someone who isn't ADD who starts to take Adderall regularly will eventually become clinically ADD without it. It induces your brain to produce an excess of a certain chemical that helps concentration, so when you stop taking it, your brain produces an artificially low amount of the chemical to maintain its chemical balance.

So we should not start handing these medications out to everybody just because they enhance performance. Adderall is a powerful stimulant, and going on a medication like Adderall is a decision that should not be taken lightly.

Bush

Is it ethical to try to keep our species even less intelligent than it could be?

BruceM

Unfortunately it seems everyone is assuming that all drugs cause adverse side effects. While all drugs are capable of doing so, not all of them will. Adderall when taken properly (fairly small doses, 10-20mg) is perfectly safe, not physically addictive, and won't cause any harm to your body. Plus I've never heard of anyone being allergic to it.

There is simply no rational reason for not allowing people to be as focused, intelligent, and alert as possible. While nobody should be forced to take a drug, nobody should be prevented from doing so, either.

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