Better than Fine? People Say They Take Medicines to Help Concentrate

Apr 9, 2008 3:42pm

When you hear complaints about performance-enhancing drugs, you usually think of ballplayers or runners.  But what about the rest of us?  Turns out a surprising number of people use "cognitive-enhancing" prescription medications to help themselves through work, tests they have to take at college, talks they have to give. Editors at the journal NATURE got curious, especially when there was heated response to an EDITORIAL they ran on this last November.  So they did an informal online survey of visitors to their website, and say they got some surprising results: "One in five respondents said they had used drugs for non-medical reasons to stimulate their focus, concentration or memory."  You can read their summary, written by Feature and Commentary Editor Brendan Maher, HERE. They asked about three types of drugs: –Ritalin (methylphenidate), the stimulant often used to control ADHD, which is also known on some college campuses as a "study aid."  (The quotation marks are NATURE’s, not mine.)
–Provigil (modafinil), a medication that increases alertness and allows people to go without sleep.
–Beta blockers, commonly used for cardiac arrhythmia or high blood pressure, that are also known to control anxiety.  Keep in mind that this was not a controlled study–people were answering if they wanted, not because they were part of a representative group.  NATURE’s readership is not typical as well, consisting in large part of people on campuses or in research institutions.  But the numbers are consistent with some past studies of college students. "This is really just a finger in the breeze," Maher wrote to me in an e-mail.  "It’s not scientific, but it points to areas where maybe more research should take place." Of those who said they took the medicines, Maher adds, "Almost all respondents (96%) thought people with neuropsychiatric disorders who have severe memory and concentration problems should be given cognition-enhancing drugs. But perhaps surprisingly, a high four-fifths thought that healthy adults should be able to take the drugs if they want to. And 69% reported that they would risk mild side effects to take such drugs themselves." Maher says 1,400 people from 60 countries answered the survey.  Most of them didn’t answer questions about where they got the medications, but of the few (201) who did, slightly more than half said they had prescriptions, and a third ordered them online.  More discussion HERE. If you have a deadline or a test to pass, or you have to speak in public, is it cheating to take a pill?  Do you make yourself "Better than Well," to borrow the title of a 2003 book by bioethicist Carl Elliott?  Or is modern medicine offering a benefit that we will one day routinely accept?

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