Scientists back brain drugs for healthy people

By chillinwill · Dec 8, 2008 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    NEW YORK (AP) — Healthy people should have the right to boost their brains with pills, like those prescribed for hyperactive kids or memory-impaired older folks, several scientists contend in a provocative commentary.

    College students are already illegally taking prescription stimulants like Ritalin to help them study, and demand for such drugs is likely to grow elsewhere, they say.

    "We should welcome new methods of improving our brain function," and doing it with pills is no more morally objectionable than eating right or getting a good night's sleep, these experts wrote in an opinion piece published online Sunday by the journal Nature.

    The commentary calls for more research and a variety of steps for managing the risks.

    As more effective brain-boosting pills are developed, demand for them is likely to grow among middle-aged people who want youthful memory powers and multitasking workers who need to keep track of multiple demands, said one commentary author, brain scientist Martha Farah of the University of Pennsylvania.

    "Almost everybody is going to want to use it," Farah said.

    "I would be the first in line if safe and effective drugs were developed that trumped caffeine," another author, Michael Gazzaniga of the University of California, Santa Barbara, declared in an e-mail.

    The seven authors, from the United States and Britain, include ethics experts and the editor-in-chief of Nature as well as scientists. They developed their case at a seminar funded by Nature and Rockefeller University in New York. Two authors said they consult for pharmaceutical companies; Farah said she had no such financial ties.

    Some health experts agreed that the issue deserves attention. But the commentary didn't impress Leigh Turner of the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics.

    "It's a nice puff piece for selling medications for people who don't have an illness of any kind," Turner said.

    The commentary cites a 2001 survey of about 11,000 American college students that found 4 percent had used prescription stimulants illegally in the prior year. But at some colleges, the figure was as high as 25 percent.

    "It's a felony, but it's being done," Farah said.

    The stimulants Adderall and Ritalin are prescribed mainly for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but they can help other people focus their attention and handle information in their heads, the commentary says.

    Another drug called Provigil is approved for sleep disorders but is also prescribed for healthy people who need to stay alert when sleep-deprived, the commentary says. Lab studies show it can also perk up the brains of well-rested people. And some drugs developed for Alzheimer's disease also provide a modest memory boost, it says.

    Ritalin is made by Switzerland-based Novartis AG, but the drug is also available generically. Adderall is made by U.K.-based Shire PLC and Montvale, N.J.-based Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc., and some formulations are also available generically. Provigil is made by Cephalon Inc. of Frazer, Pa.

    While supporting the concept that healthy adults should be able to use brain-boosting drugs, the authors called for:

    _ More research into the use, benefits and risks of such drugs. Much is unknown about the current medications, such as the risk of dependency when used for this purpose, the commentary said. Also, according to the Food and Drug Administration, Adderall, for example, is an amphetamine that carries warnings about possible sudden death, heart attack and stroke, especially for people with heart problems.

    _ Policies to guard against people being coerced into taking them.

    _ Steps to keep the benefits from making socio-economic inequalities worse.

    _ Action by doctors, educators and others to develop policies on the use of such drugs by healthy people.

    _ Legislative action to allow drug companies to market the drugs to healthy people if they meet regulatory standards for safety and effectiveness.

    Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said she agreed with the commentary that the nonprescribed use of brain-boosting drugs must be studied.

    But she said she was concerned that wider use of stimulants could lead more people to become addicted to them. That's what happened decades ago when they were widely prescribed for a variety of disorders, she said.

    "Whether we like it or not, that property of stimulants is not going to go away," she said.

    Erik Parens, a senior research scholar at the Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank in Garrison, N.Y., said the commentary makes a convincing case that "we ought to be opening this up for public scrutiny and public conversation."

    One challenge will be finding ways to protect people against subtle coercion to use the drugs, the kind of thing parents feel when neighbor kids sign up for SAT prep courses, he said.

    And if the nation moves to providing a basic package of health care to all its citizens, it's hard to see how it could afford to include brain-boosting drugs, he said. If they have to be bought separately, it raises the question about promoting societal inequalities, he said.

    Posted On December 7, 20008
    AP Press

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  1. Expat98
  2. 3rd_high
    of course we should be allowed to put whatever we like into our bodies, to improve our minds/lives.. but as long as we have a government, i dont think that day will come anytime soon. But when scientists start coming out with reports like this, it brings some false hope nevertheless!
  3. Synesthesiac
    Brain-Enhancing Drugs: Legalize 'Em, Scientists Say

    Brain-Enhancing Drugs: Legalize 'Em, Scientists Say


    If drugs can safely give your brain a boost, why not take them? And if you don't want to, why stop others?

    In an era when attention-disorder drugs are regularly — and illegally — being used for off-label purposes by people seeking a better grade or year-end job review, these are timely ethical questions.

    The latest answer comes from Nature, where seven prominent ethicists and neuroscientists recently published a paper entitled, "Towards a responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy."

    In short: Legalize 'em.

    "Mentally competent adults," they write, "should be able to engage in cognitive enhancement using drugs."

    Roughly seven percent of all college students, and up to 20 percent of scientists, have already used Ritalin or Adderall — originally intended to treat attention-deficit disorders — to improve their mental performance.
    Some people argue that chemical cognition-enhancement is a form of cheating. Others say that it's unnatural. The Nature authors counter these charges: Brain boosters are only cheating, they say, if prohibited by the rules — which need not be the case. As for the drugs being unnatural, the authors argue, they're no more unnatural than medicine, education and housing.

    In many ways, the arguments are compelling. Nobody rejects pasteurized milk or dental anesthesia or central heating because it's unnatural. And whether a brain is altered by drugs, education or healthy eating, it's being altered at the same neurobiological level. Making moral distinctions between them is arbitrary.

    But if a few people use cognition-enhancing drugs, might everyone else be forced to follow, whether they want to or not?

    If enough people improve their performance, then improvement becomes the status quo. Brain-boosting drug use could become a basic job requirement.

    Ritalin and Adderall, now ubiquitous as academic pick-me-ups, are merely the first generation of brain boosters. Next up is Provigil, a "wakefulness promoting agent" that lets people go for days without sleep, and improves memory to boot. More powerful drugs will follow.

    As the Nature authors write, "cognitive enhancements affect the most complex and important human organ and the risk of unintended side effects is therefore both high and consequential." But even if their safety could be assured, what happens when workers are expected to be capable of marathon bouts of high-functioning sleeplessness?

    Most people I know already work 50 hours a week and struggle to find time for friends, family and the demands of life. None wish to become fully robotic in order to keep their jobs. So I posed the question to Michael Gazzaniga, a University of California, Santa Barbara, psychobiologist and Nature article co-author.

    "It is possible to do all of that now with existing drugs," he said. "One has to set their goals and know when to tell their boss to get lost!"
    Which is not, perhaps, the most practical career advice these days. And Penn State neuroethicist Martha Farah, another of the paper's authors, was a bit less sanguine.

    "First the early adopters use the enhancements to get an edge. Then, as more people adopt them, those who don't, feel they must just to stay competitive with what is, in effect, a new higher standard," she said.
    Citing the now-normal stresses produced by expectations of round-the-clock worker availability and inhuman powers of multitasking, Farah said, "There is definitely a risk of this dynamic repeating itself with cognition-enhancing drugs."

    But people are already using them, she said. Some version of this scenario is inevitable — and the solution, she said, isn't to simply say that cognition enhancement is bad.

    Instead we should develop better drugs, understand why people use them, promote alternatives and create sensible policies that minimize their harm.
    As Gazzaniga also pointed out, "People might stop research on drugs that may well help memory loss in the elderly" — or cognition problems in the young — "because of concerns over misuse or abuse."

    This would certainly be unfortunate collateral damage in the 21st century theater of the War on Drugs — and the question of brain enhancement needs to be seen in the context of this costly and destructive war. As Schedule II substances, Ritalin and Adderall are legally equivalent in the United States to opium or cocaine.

    "These laws," write the Nature authors, "should be adjusted to avoid making felons out of those who seek to use safe cognitive enhancements."
    After all, according to the law's letter, seven percent of college students and 20 percent of scientists should have done jail time — this journalist, too.

    Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy [Nature]

    By Brandon Keim December 10, 2008 | 4:09:39 PM
    Source: Wired Science,
  4. mykeamine
    swim wants to agree with this. as swim knows a teacher who has a daughter that has "faked" it to receive a ADHD dx and rx. the burden on her shoulders every day, morally, is that she is "cheating" her way to the life she wants. swim will have to tell her to read this article.
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