SOCIETY should embrace the use of drugs that boost brain power. That’s the message from a group of neuroscientists, psychiatrists and ethicists.
A recent survey found that at some US universities, up to 25 per cent of students routinely buy Ritalin or Adderall – prescription drugs to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder – on black markets to boost memory and concentration. The stimulant Modafinil has also been touted as a mind enhancer.
However, studies of the effect of some of these drugs on cognitive function in healthy people have shown mixed results. Henry Greely of Stanford Law School in California, and his colleagues, call for more research on this, as well as into the drugs’ safety. Cognitive enhancers found to be safe and effective should be welcomed, not feared, they say (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/456702a).
“This isn’t like steroids and sports… enhancement is not a dirty word,” says Greely, adding that using drugs in this way is not “unnatural”.
He and his colleagues argue that a safe pill should be seen as no different to other strategies we already use to improve our minds, like a good night’s sleep or a strong cup of coffee. Inexpensive drugs may even have the potential to be a more egalitarian way to get ahead than expensive tutoring, they say.
Brain pills could give an edge to nations whose citizens opt to raise their intelligence, suggests neuroethicist Julian Savulescu of the University of Oxford.