Scientific doping

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Nature has a commentary on the use of “cognitive-enhancing drugs” in healthy and “diseased” individuals. They opine:

The debate over cognitive-enhancing drugs must also consider the expected magnitude of the benefits and weigh them against the risks and side effects of each drug. Most readers would not consider that having a double shot of espresso or a soft drink containing caffeine would confer an unfair advantage at work. The use of caffeine to enhance concentration is commonplace, despite having side effects in at least some individuals. Often overlooked in media reports on cognitive enhancers is the fact that many of the effects in healthy individuals are transient and small-to-moderate in size. Just as one would hardly propose that a strong cup of coffee could be the secret of academic achievement or faster career advancement, the use of such drugs does not necessarily entail cheating.

Cognitive enhancers with small or no side effects but with moderate enhancing effects that alleviate forgetfulness or enable one to focus better on the task at hand during a tiring day at work would be unlikely to meet much objection. And does it matter if it is delivered as a pill or a drink?

There seems to be some ingrained human reaction against what is considered “cheating” (which is one those things whose obvious definition to one person might be considered ridiculous by someone else); this would be the major barrier these drugs will have to overcome in order to being commonplace.

Shelly Batts at Retrospectacle
asks the question I was thinking when I read this article:

A commentary today in Nature, by Sahakian and Morein-Zamir, poses the question: if you could take a pill which enhanced attention and cognition with few or no side effects, would you?

But I ask, why wouldn’t you?

Frankly, I do enjoy having my “attention enhancers” in the widely-used and socially acceptable beverage form, but I can imagine a world where it’s socially acceptable to pop an IQ pill, and it doesn’t seem that bad to me at all.


  1. In my high school it wasn’t considered especially unusual to pop an Adderal (ADHD drug, an amphetamine) on the day of a test. I wouldn’t be surprised if Adderal raised IQ.

  2. But I ask, why wouldn’t you? Because if such a thing were probable, it’s probable that we would already have developed equivalent changes in our neurology. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and there are rarely benefits without trade-offs of some kind or another. 
    People don’t realize that is very easy to become addicted to caffeine. They don’t notice it because it’s commonly used, because it’s a very easy addiction to break, and because they mistake the withdrawal symptoms for the ‘normal’ state that the caffeine is supposed to ‘improve’. 
    What if prolonged use of the memory- and attention-boosters leads to compensatory changes that lead to the drugs being a requirement to function normally?

  3. I’ve taken Dexidrine in 60-80mg daily doses on a regular basis for most of the last decade with no ill effects whatsoever. Never had any trouble getting to sleep every night as long as I don’t take any after about 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I have also never experienced any “withdrawal symptoms” nor have I developed any resistance to its effects. I never bother to take it on the weekends or for that matter on any day that I am not working. 
    It is only the continual and hysterical lies by Puritanical authoritarians that keep this and many other beneficial chemicals such as Valium out of the hands of the general populace.

  4. I think that we should be strict about this. All amphetamine-aided mathematical proofs should be regarded as invalid. Erdös wasn’t “eccentric”, he was juiced.

  5. What if prolonged use of the memory- and attention-boosters leads to compensatory changes that lead to the drugs being a requirement to function normally? 

  6. When safe IQ boosting drugs appear, will they be legal? Yes, as treatment for Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, depression, mental retardation, learning disorders. 
    There is a very real possibility that the drugs will be sold on the black market inside the countries that decide to crack down on their use by “normals.” When that happens, the enforcers of the anti-smart laws might have to take the drugs themselves–to keep up with the “felons” who want to make the drugs freely available to whoever can pay the tab.