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March 12, 2008 7:42 PM   Subscribe

"By their drugs shall ye know them." I always thought that nootropics would change the face of the academy, but it turns out scholars are getting high on Adderall. Is that so bad? Well, it's an addictive amphetamine, and it's supposedly cheating when students to take advantage of chemical assistance. Plus, boredom is good for you.

From the NYTimes article:
“I’m talking about being able to take on twice the responsibility, work twice as fast, write more effectively, manage better, be more attentive, devise better and more creative strategies.”
Is it cheating if it helps us cure cancer?
posted by anotherpanacea (76 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
eponysterical
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:52 PM on March 12, 2008


The ends justify the means, if the ends justify the means.
posted by Caviar at 7:57 PM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Give it a couple more years until all these rabid over achievers start excelling at digging invisible worms out their faces with the sharp ends of their compasses.
posted by The Straightener at 8:02 PM on March 12, 2008 [5 favorites]


Even if the ends do justify the means, it's not really fair to the students who aren't able or willing to obtain and abuse illegal prescriptions in order to boost their concentration, etc.
posted by Jess the Mess at 8:07 PM on March 12, 2008


digging invisible worms out their faces with the sharp ends of their compasses


Sounds like a Nature paper waiting to happen.
posted by logicpunk at 8:09 PM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Only degenerate filth use drugs.

Now excuse me, I'm off to drink some espresso.
posted by mullingitover at 8:10 PM on March 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Well, if it's not fair...
posted by humannaire at 8:10 PM on March 12, 2008


Here's the original Nature article that started this controversy: Professor's Little Helper.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:14 PM on March 12, 2008


Re second link: looks like an interesting summary, but I'm not at all qualfied to judge whether it has much merit or if it's just pseudoscientific mush. Smells like the second. Anyone?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:16 PM on March 12, 2008


I'm frequently very tempted to acquire Adderall. I've resisted so far, but it's worrisome to think how I'm hurting myself by performing worse than I could be.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 8:18 PM on March 12, 2008


Hmmm....

My experiences with nootropics can be summed up thusly: really complicated, intricate doodles.

While attention span and productivity definitely increase to soul-killing, robot-like levels, you can easily telescope on problems, tasks, blah blah. You feel so able! WOW I HAVE SO MUCH CLARITY! But, after the "work" is done... your mind is still on. for. days. So, while your 10hours of important study, work, problem solving, whatever, is done you fidget and clean your nails or freak out (draw obsessive little doodles) for the next 2 days until BAM! Your body crashes and you're out for ANOTHER day sleeping it off. So, for 10hrs of productivity comes 2 days of freaking out and 1 or 2 of recuperation time...

Eh, stupid. I find that most really great thoughts come from the subconscious anyway, or after time spent away from a problem.

[I would LOVE to hear others relate their experiences, though! Meta Chat?]
posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 8:26 PM on March 12, 2008


[I would LOVE to hear others relate their experiences, though! Meta Chat?]

Just look for the mefites who obsessively reload the page and moderate their own threads.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:31 PM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


But is prescription tweaking to perform on exams, or prepare presentations and grants, really the same as injecting hormones to chase down a home run record, or win the Tour de France?

Seems exactly the same to me.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:34 PM on March 12, 2008


So, I should point out that Adderall is amphetamine salts - it's really just another kind of speed, and it can be addictive. Some people truly do benefit from these sorts of drugs, because they *need* them to function on a normal level; but even then, it's not something you just jump into, because there are all sorts of ramifications for their use.

I have some sleep issues and I take modafinil for it, but unlike these crazy grad students it just allows me to stay awake throughout the day and act normally. Adderall was also a drug I discussed with my doctor but I really wasn't comfortable with the idea of taking something like that on a daily basis.

While I'm grateful for the higher level of awakeness that modafinil provides, I still feel that drugs like these are more like solving problems with sledgehammers instead of delicate tools, and the bigger the sledgehammer the more likely you are to break something.

my 2 cents from personal experience.
posted by EricGjerde at 8:35 PM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I honestly like doing nothing. Standing in line at the grocery store doesn't bother me. I don't even look at the magazines. I do one thing at a time, if possible, and I take my time doing it. Maybe I'm just old.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:36 PM on March 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


It is no more or less cheating than those who take steroids to excel at sports, a comparison the authors also make. Some people are blessed by genetics, others make up for it with chemicals. As an ethical issue, it doesn't really bother me. If a particular student or professor is able to achieve what otherwise would have crushed and broken them, then I don't see how it is cheating to take a bunch of Adderall and get it done. When people say they should have bucked up and done it on their own, that's fine and dandy but the more likely scenario is that they wouldn't have. It seems like a far cry from getting someone else to do the work, which is what cheating is really all about to me.

Personally? I find them a useful tool for when crunch time is approaching, but tend to rely on the old staple of caffeine more frequently as the effects and side-effects are less overwhelming.
posted by sophist at 8:40 PM on March 12, 2008


Doing nothing is just another chance to be mindful. I quite enjoyed that article.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:40 PM on March 12, 2008


I'm so excited! I'm so excited! I'm so... scared!

It didn't turn out too well for Alex P. Keaton either.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:43 PM on March 12, 2008


Even if the ends do justify the means, it's not really fair to the students who aren't able or willing to obtain and abuse illegal prescriptions in order to boost their concentration, etc.

WTF? Where does "fair" come into it?

So long as there isn't outright cheating, I fail to see how gaining a leg up on others is in any way unfair. Some students use mnemonics to assist their memory — is that also unfair? Many students drink coffee, but others are unable to for health or religious reasons — is that unfair? Some students don't have to work to put themselves through school, giving them more time for study and play — is that unfair?

Life isn't fair, Jess.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:50 PM on March 12, 2008


I was taking prescribed Adderrall. I didn't like the post-drug crash and how irritable I'd get with my family. I switched to DHA/enzymes/more sleep, and quit eating stuff I knew I was allergic too. Seems to help.
posted by mecran01 at 8:51 PM on March 12, 2008


Aha. I see there's analogies being drawn to sports.

If schooling were like sports, there would be only one winner. Students would all be competing to be the very best, and only the very best would receive any sort of status, award, or future. And if schooling were like that, doping one's brain — on Adderall or caffeine — would, IMO, be cheating.

But school is not often like that. You take your classes, study for exams, write your papers, and in the end you receive a grade that reflects your ability to show that you have learned the subject. In terms of winning a scholarship or honors roll, perhaps the druggies are cheating; in terms of graduating with a valuable degree and the prospect of a fulfilling job and future, not so much.

Perhaps it depends on one's focus. If one believes one is competing against others, the dopers are cheating. If one believes one is competing against one's own limitations, the actions of others are basically irrelevant.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:00 PM on March 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


[son] QUAALUDE - But, after the "work" is done... your mind is still on. for. days.

Gah. There are some of us who are always like that and it suuucks. Where're the pill-happy psychologists for people who think too much?
posted by porpoise at 9:20 PM on March 12, 2008


Perhaps it depends on one's focus. If one believes one is competing against others, the dopers are cheating. If one believes one is competing against one's own limitations, the actions of others are basically irrelevant.

More to the point, university is not actually about cramming your head with facts that you can then extract & reassemble at will in your working life. It's more about training you in the research process: how you find information, how you analyse, interpret & present it. This is the 'hidden curriculum', and it has nothing to do with what you 'learned' in any specific subject.

Those who come top in the hidden curriculum are those who learn how to do the most with least, in the quickest possible time, because when your boss needs a report on whatever by this very afternoon, the people who've learned how to blag their way through university on the tiniest possible effort - remaining convincing even if they've barely attended their lectures or only skimmed the textbook - are the ones who will come through with the goods, while the amphetamine-addicted plodders will remain the competent-enough mediocrities they always would have been anyway, either with or without Adderall.

In fact, learning to recognise when you need to make an effort or not, and what the appropriate level of that effort should be, is one of the keystones of this curriculum. And if these students really think that anybody will give a rat's arse whether they got an 87 or a 91 in Financial Accounting 102 two years after graduation, then I'd suggest that they've already failed.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:28 PM on March 12, 2008 [13 favorites]


Three words, porpoise: Te. Qui. La.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:37 PM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Doesn't make me high. Just makes me able to hold down a job.
posted by loiseau at 9:41 PM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wrote a extremely long post about this previously, before the faculty-Adderall issue became prominent, or at least before I'd heard about it.

I've been very definitively diagnosed as ADHD, I can't stand Adderall, but Ritalin makes a huge difference if taken in moderation. I think this is an issue that cuts both ways. I had an enormous bias against prescription drugs growing up, and refused to even consider the possibility that I might be ADD/ADHD even through undergrad, and I'm convinced now that it was a huge mistake. It wasn't until a psychiatrist practically demanded that I take some tests to quantify for me just how poor my focusing issues were that I realized what was going on. I made myself really miserable, missed a lot of irreplaceable opportunities, and actually put myself at personal risk as a result.

If they don't drop out, ADD/ADHD kids often develop completely untenable coping strategies, either through self-medication or, in my case, by mastering the art of procrastination and by producing vapid, last-minute work that wasn't even remotely close to what I was capable of and from which I learned almost nothing. I also developed a number of psychological defense mechanisms involving an entirely inappropriate disdain for people with decent study habits that I'm quite ashamed of now.

Because of that behavior, I wasted an untold number of opportunities throughout my academic career, despite being in accelerated courses and achieving fairly decent grades. I also developed work habits that turned out to be absolutely incompatible with any sort of actual career.

Actually addressing the issue was a night-and-day turnaround -- rather than pulling all-nighters drinking caffeine and making myself sick because I put off a deadline (and then falling further behind), my goal now is finishing my work early so that I can stop taking medications as soon as possible and take time off (they make it harder to do creative tasks, I find, like drawing or playing guitar). It's been a much healthier, lower-stress lifestyle, and I actually tend to produce quality work rather than drivel banged out two hours before it's due. This simply wasn't something that I was capable of doing before, because I was so easily distracted.

The basic problem is stigmatization, and the recent hand-wringing on this issue is unfortunate. There are fairly reliable tests that can be done to determine whether medication is necessary. But many people get diagnosed or not without ever taking any of those tests. Ultimately, that just means uninformed decisions. Taking stimulants is a ubiquitous part of academia and Western life. (I tend not to mention taking Ritalin to anyone because of the reaction it can provoke, and it irks me that drinking 5 cups of coffee a day isn't worth batting an eye at.) I've never been able to handle more than a Coke at a time, and caffeine tends to make my ADHD symptoms much, much worse. Why should I be forced to adopt a psychologically dangerous means of coping like a normal person? People should, I think, be able to choose what works best for them, have an opportunity to make an informed decision, and have competent medical advice available to help them make that decision and to avoid the possibility of dependence. Sweeping the underlying problem under the rug is dangerous either way, as it was to me.

This problem cuts a wide swathe that's about far more than just Adderall. For example, I'm in a very small minority of my law school class that almost never drinks alcohol (largely thanks to the Ritalin and the resultant stress-reduction, by the way), and alcoholism is a huge problem in the lawyer community. I don't think I even know anyone besides me that doesn't drink coffee. Cocaine and methamphetamine use is reportedly common (though I haven't any of it personally and some of that talk has the sound of backbiting to it). Most of these behaviors are extremely dangerous.

But there are underlying problems in the legal community -- and in society at large, as the first linked article mentions -- that push people into these inappropriate or self-destructive coping mechanisms and then enforce a stigma that prevents them from getting help. It's unbelievable. Family problems are particularly rampant amongst lawyers. Ladder-climbing and competition is brutal. Everyone is tied to their Blackberries around the clock now -- they might as well staple the damn things to your hand as soon as you walk in the door at most any firm.

But the critical issue is not about whether one's "self-medicating" or not, but whether you're honestly evaluating your commitments and capabilities and acting within healthy limits. The act of taking stimulants isn't de facto good or bad depending on whether you've been "properly diagnosed" (though for those who haven't, it's a make-or-break issue) -- it's a question of whether you're simply doing too much. People shouldn't be attached to their offices 24 hours a day, but that's more or less the norm now. The dangerous coping mechanisms are symptoms of that one fundamental dysfunction.

It requires a lot of humility to step back and admit that you can't be superhuman, but in the end I think you actually get a lot more done if you make that call properly. We need to create a healthier space for people to talk about this, and hyping up a stigma around "cheating" by taking stimulants is a counterproductive way of doing that.

It's hypocritical to load people with responsibilities that effectively require them to act in an unhealthy way, and then create a taboo against actually talking about the effects of the lifestyle that inevitably results.
posted by spiderwire at 9:46 PM on March 12, 2008 [20 favorites]


Those who come top in the hidden curriculum are those who learn how to do the most with least, in the quickest possible time, because when your boss needs a report on whatever by this very afternoon, the people who've learned how to blag their way through university on the tiniest possible effort - remaining convincing even if they've barely attended their lectures or only skimmed the textbook - are the ones who will come through with the goods, while the amphetamine-addicted plodders will remain the competent-enough mediocrities they always would have been anyway, either with or without Adderall.

Ubi makes an interesting point that is worth highlighting. Being efficient with your work is absolutely a precondition to success, and to the extent that stimulants, etc., obviate the need to learn these basic skills, this is entirely correct.

However, the flip side here is that it's also possible for very capable people to become too good at this, and to specialize in putting out substandard work in bursts. In most jobs in academia and in real life, you have to do both -- to sustain a certain baseline level of quality work, but to work efficiently and be able to shift into that next gear when it's necessary.

Speaking from personal experience, the ability to work very efficiently can be dangerous if you use it to avoid developing healthy work habits in the first place. It's also self-reinforcing: the more efficient you get, the less actual sustained work you do.
posted by spiderwire at 9:52 PM on March 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Very well said, spiderwire, on both points (although I can't speak to the ADHD stuff personally).

In fact, the bit about "mastering the art of procrastination and producing vapid, last-minute work that wasn't even remotely close to what I was capable of and from which I learned almost nothing. I also developed a number of psychological defense mechanisms involving an entirely inappropriate disdain for people with decent study habits that I'm quite ashamed of now" could even describe the evil twin of the dux of the hidden curriculum.

Now, to put in a burst of work before reloading Recent Activity...
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:04 PM on March 12, 2008


Spiderwire, I think the length of your post speaks to a kind of overmedication on stimulants.
posted by mert at 10:16 PM on March 12, 2008


Spiderwire, I think the length of your post speaks to a kind of overmedication on stimulants.

tl;dr
posted by spiderwire at 10:17 PM on March 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


It's funny that I'm reading this now; It's just about midterm time, and I missed a week of grad school to go "home" to my parents because my mother had to go into the hospital for an infection-- she was there for two weeks. I tried my damnedest to keep up with reading, etc (I also teach comp.) I came back to school, and a few days later my father went into the hospital himself for what I thought was going to be an angioplasty or something similar-- it ended up being a triple bypass. Both of my parents have a TON of health issues, and I'm the only child. (They're both in their late 70s, early 80s; She's semi-ambulatory, having had really bad Rheumatoid Arthritis for ~25 years, he's a caregiver, in a broad sense) I was down there for a few days, slept maybe two hours in that entire time, drove back to school after I found my father was stable, got books and my laptop, then drove back down (~150 miles one way door-to-door). I had a colleague cover my class for one day, and I've been trying to stay afloat. I have two midterms due in three days, and that's with extensions. I have been dealing with >18 different MD's, RN's, surgeons, social workers, case workers, sub-acute rehab administrators and, pharmacists, (plus credit card companies, relatives, etc.)

I came back again for a day or two to teach my class and resupply, leaving in two days to go back.

The only reason I bring all this up is that I wish that I had something to keep me going, and adderall or modinafil sounds like it would be great for a couple of days. I don't mind a crash, but I need to stay up for a few days and be productive.
posted by exlotuseater at 10:37 PM on March 12, 2008


exlotuseater: does your university not have some kind of exception process for "special consideration"? (eg you get to do your exams at a later date, or submit essays in lieu of sitting the exam)? that's a hell of a lot of stress for you to go through, and schools here definitely take that kind of stuff into account & help work around whatever personal issues one might be going through.

other than that, i wouldn't recommend dabbling with (prescription or non-prescription) drugs that you're not already acclimatised to when under all those combined stresses. IANAD/P but that sounds to me like a recipe for a massive disaster.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:53 PM on March 12, 2008


So long as there isn't outright cheating, I fail to see how gaining a leg up on others is in any way unfair. Some students use mnemonics to assist their memory — is that also unfair? Many students drink coffee, but others are unable to for health or religious reasons — is that unfair? Some students don't have to work to put themselves through school, giving them more time for study and play — is that unfair?

Yes, but none of the other "study aids" you mention are illegal. If using Adderall for academic purposes were legal I wouldn't have a problem with it. There are consequences to its abuse (however seldom enforced) that coffee and mnemonic devices don't carry.

Life isn't fair, Jess.

Thanks for pointing that out. Because, I am a raving idiot, you know. No life isn't fair. But university isn't trying to be life. I think most deans would say their university strives to be as fair as it can to its students whatever their background (otherwise why have financial aid or writing centers?) and turning a blind eye to illegal activity that gives students willing to break the law an academic advantage over those who choose to remain good citizens I imagine goes against what nearly all universities would purport to stand for.
posted by Jess the Mess at 10:54 PM on March 12, 2008


correction to the original post - the academics weren't using adderall, but provigil (also known as modafinil).
posted by spacediver at 11:08 PM on March 12, 2008


Yes, but none of the other "study aids" you mention are illegal. If using Adderall for academic purposes were legal I wouldn't have a problem with it.

I don't really buy that argument. If Adderall were in a lower drug schedule, that wouldn't make its casual use more healthy. In fact, I'd have more of a problem with that, since it would mean sanctioning it with total abandon, rather than merely poorly, like we do now.

I'm no apologist for unlawful behavior, but I have never heard this problem seriously phrased as one of legality, and I think that's an inappropriate way of looking at it -- as most every article on the topic mentions, it's trivial and not illegal to get a prescription for most ADD medications. Few doctors demand clinical tests.

Again, this comes back to the problem of the internal pressures in academia and other professions that cause people to decide that they need an extra edge just to get by. And keeping people in the dark incentivizes this behavior by creating a prisoner's dilemma -- erring on the side of caution to counteract the risk that others are doing the same and thereby gaining a relative advantage.

Appropriate testing and prescription procedures are secondary concerns behind avoiding that perverse incentive. If the demands we place on people are unrealistic and excessive, the coping mechanisms will inevitably be dangerous and unhealthy. The situational "legitimacy" of those coping mechanisms is a red herring.
posted by spiderwire at 11:40 PM on March 12, 2008


I still feel that drugs like these are more like solving problems with sledgehammers instead of delicate tools

Modafinil isn't really a sledgehammer--first, because it's not a stimulant. In fact, Cephalon (the manufacturer) recently had to pay around $400 million dollars in penalties for attempting to market it as a treatment for ADHD. It's a fairly targeted drug, and probably a pretty big disappointment for anyone looking for a study "edge."

Adderall, on the other hand... now there's your sledgehammer.

The only reason I bring all this up is that I wish that I had something to keep me going, and adderall or modinafil sounds like it would be great for a couple of days.

I can't speak to Adderall, but I doubt Modafinil will give you what you're looking for. I haven't personally experienced any side-effects (which is not to say that others haven't), but on the flip side, I don't feel like it does that much for me, either. And it doesn't do shit for cataplexy--not that you would care.

It's also something like $6.00 a pill if you don't have prescription drug coverage. If you just need to stay up for a couple of days, speed would probably be a whole lot cheaper and a whole lot more effective, but then, there's that whole "psychic crash" thing to look forward to.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:01 AM on March 13, 2008


My brother worked at a nuclear power plant back in the 80s. In order to work superhuman hours and make superhuman wages, he took a drug that facilitated this, allowing him to work for 120-140 hours per week, with $2k weekly paychecks. Doesn't sound like much these days, but $100k/year, in the 80s, for someone without a college degree, that was some serious moolah.

Unfortunately, the drug he took that allowed him to work these superhuman hours was cocaine, and most of his money went to appropriating more of it, so he wasn't really getting ahead. He was just working a lot of hours and feeding all that money to his coke dealer, until he got in over his head and got one of his legs broken over bad debt, which necessitated his fleeing the state in order to remain breathing.

I don't think my bro's workmates thought he was cheating. They probably thought he was stupid for abusing his body like that, if they thought anything at all. That's pretty much my stance on Adderall too; it's not so much cheating as it is dumb to put your body/mind through those hard crashes. There's got to be a price you pay for doing that to yourself. TANSTAAFL. (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, for the non-Larry Niven fans out there.)
posted by jamstigator at 3:01 AM on March 13, 2008


That first article actually has very little to do with drugs, but I really, really, enjoyed reading it - the author has a great style. It's almost exactly like Vinge's Rainbow's End only without the tedious, page-wasting 'plot' and set back 10 years to today.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled whatever thingummy it was you were talking about.
posted by Sparx at 4:36 AM on March 13, 2008


The only situations where stimulants are really tempting to me are grueling day-long exams. For example, the MCAT and USMLE take eight hours or so (I'm told the MCAT is shorter now that it's computerized) and are high-stakes for the test-takers. I've not done it (aside from caffeine), but I've heard of plenty that need a little something to sit answering multiple choice questions for eight hours.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:20 AM on March 13, 2008


correction to the original post - the academics weren't using adderall, but provigil (also known as modafinil).

Huh. How'd that happen? Oh, I see: the NYTimes article calls it modafinal, but then switches to talking about Adderall, and I figured that was the tradename for it and did the rest of my research on that basis. I'm still coping with large quantities of coffee, so I might not be as sharp as my pill-popping colleagues. Yet another example of the dangers of drug-stigmatization....
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:05 AM on March 13, 2008


I have ADHD, and I wish Adderall did anything that spectacular to me. It makes me able to do things like sit still and carry on a conversation.
posted by streetdreams at 7:10 AM on March 13, 2008


Many students drink coffee, but others are unable to for health or religious reasons — is that unfair? Some students don't have to work to put themselves through school, giving them more time for study and play — is that unfair?

Possible and yes, in that order.

Life isn't fair, Jess.

True, but you seem to want us to simultaneously accept the unfairness and deny it exists. Your rhetorical "is that unfair" suggests that you at least don't think so.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:04 AM on March 13, 2008


Sparx: Ugh, Rainbow's End. I really enjoyed A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky, but Rainbow's End was such a disappointment.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:05 AM on March 13, 2008


five fresh fish writes "Some students don't have to work to put themselves through school, giving them more time for study and play — is that unfair?"

I'd like to see some research in this area. I seem to recall that college students who worked around 15 hours per week did better that students who didn't work at all.
posted by mullingitover at 8:35 AM on March 13, 2008


TANSTAAFL. (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, for the non-Larry Niven fans out there.)

TANSTAAFL is not Niven's.
posted by TypographicalError at 8:51 AM on March 13, 2008


The only thing I really have to add to this is a standard to go by; if adderall or cocaine is a lot cheating, then caffeine and nicotine is, a little bit, cheating. Where I come from, any amount of cheating is CHEATING, so I'm afraid you can't pick and choose. So for argument's sake, I'll say, no it isn't cheating, because as someone said before, all things come at a price.

I don't believe the legality of these drugs should even be considered because, not only is it not important to the competitive academic question, but it also brings society's moral standards as well as the fallibility of the process that decided that cocaine was illegal, yet dexadrine or adderall is prescription, or why morphine is legal and heroin isn't (I know about the cutting and all that, yeah yeah, but active ingredients can be isolated and there are much larger reasons that detract from the debate).

These things considered, I simply cannot come to a conclusion. Punishing your body in any way that could be avoided by responsible time management is foolish, but not unethical, is it? If it is, then would it be OK if it is purely recreational because it doesn't give one an unfair advantage? If THAT is true, doesn't that trivialize the whole reason not to do the drug in the first place?

If someone wants to balance a ridiculously stressful schedule AND an addiction to amphetamines, go right ahead. We'll so how far those people get halfway through the semester in contrast to that studious person who gets enough sleep and only has to worry about the occasional headache and eye strain.
posted by hellslinger at 9:21 AM on March 13, 2008


Taking amphetamines in a crunch to get stuff done is understandable, but it gets really easy to see everything that comes up as a crunch. Pretty soon, a sink of unwashed dishes and an article to read is a crunch. Amphetamine dependence is a curse I'd wish on no one. If you have the self-control to avoid it, kudos to you. Me, I just drink a ton of coffee and lament the damage I did to my brain when I was younger and dumber.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 9:55 AM on March 13, 2008


It's hypocritical to load people with responsibilities that effectively require them to act in an unhealthy way, and then create a taboo against actually talking about the effects of the lifestyle that inevitably results.

And then romanticize the ridiculous, proven to be horrid for you, easily attainable, culturally and economically foundational alternatives to doctor-supervised cures for actual disorders. I'm looking at you, beer, martinis, cocaine, marijuana, tequila (advocated in this thread), caffeine, etc etc etc.
posted by spicynuts at 10:13 AM on March 13, 2008


I have ADHD, and took Adderall for a while. Make no mistake, it is addictive. I stopped because I was developing a dependency. After a few months of almost daily use I found myself exhausted, depressed, and completely unable to function on days I didn't take it. And as time passed, I needed more amounts of medication to get the same effects. So I stopped, because I couldn't see myself going on like that for years. Going back to "normal" took maybe a month, month-and-a-half of not taking the drug at all.

People who take this drug because they think it's safe are fucking idiots. It's speed. It's watered-down speed, and just because you're getting it from a doctor instead of your neighborhood meth lab does not mean you aren't going to experience analogous (though scaled-down) effects. Have there been any studies of people who take prescription stimulants for long periods of time--say three, five, ten years--and the effects? Their ability to function without the stimulants? The very fact that you can get a cocaine-like rush from snorting it should tell you something about the nature of the drug.
posted by schroedinger at 10:32 AM on March 13, 2008


Ha, I got tenure on nothing but espresso coming up and a very innocuous natural herbal substance coming down. And cigarettes, of course.

Wimps.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:40 AM on March 13, 2008


Ah, Adderall sweet Adderall. I was prescribed Adderall XR for ADHD and it truly was the Cadillac of all the stimulants I tried. A smooth interaction that I could cruise on all day and not crash like a stone when it wore off. But the side effects of the salts weren't pretty, the dry mouth was horrible. And once cardiac risks hit the news, my wife said, "I'd rather have the old distracted, non-dry mouth alive husband, than the alert dead one." I quit and went back to Diet Cokes and trying to eat as little processed foods as possible. It doesn't compare to the level of focus I had on Adderall XR but I'll take it.
posted by Ber at 10:49 AM on March 13, 2008


I have ADHD, and I wish Adderall did anything that spectacular to me. It makes me able to do things like sit still and carry on a conversation.

You were probably taking the prescribed dose which isn't enough to really get you all hyperfocused and such. Triple up your dose and I guarantee you'd be flying.

note: do not triple up your dose.


I've seen people with ADHD. I've seen people take crystal meth. I've seen people take Adderall in both prescribed dosages and in recreational dosages. Frankly, the intersection of these groups is not, in my experience, very large. In other words, there are some people who needs a measured dose of amphetamine salts to function normally. I hope they get what they need. But most people who take amphetamine salts don't actually need them; they're looking for a leg up or to get high or whatever. Sure if you take adderall you'll be able to study better or work harder. That's true of anybody whether they actually have something like ADHD or no. And Adderall is good shit, preferable by many users to crystal meth because you know exactly what you're getting and in what dose with no contaminants, and the high is very similar to plain old street crystal.

Make it all legal; letting people legally take speed if they can navigate the medical system effectively and thus boost their their grades/work productivitywhile putting other people in jail for years for cutting out the middleman is ridiculous moralistic bullshit.
posted by Justinian at 11:34 AM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


And once cardiac risks hit the news

Errr... you were surpised that speed had cardiac risks?
posted by Justinian at 11:35 AM on March 13, 2008



Yeah, I find it incredible that people would argue that taking these drugs is "unfair" but having a high IQ isn't. Some people are naturally taller than others-- some are naturally prettier, smarter, etc. If you want to take the risks of taking a drug to make up for some of the advantages you don't have, why shouldn't you? But you should be truly informed about the risks-- and truthfully, there is a lot that we don't know.

Regarding taking speed long-term, there is actually data showing that most people don't become addicts if by addicts you mean people who use compulsively despite negative consequences (the DSM definition). If by addict you mean "needs speed to function," then we're all food,water and air addicts and diabetics are insulin addicts and people taking antidepressants are antidepressant addicts. In other words, the term becomes meaningless.

And in fact, teens prescribed speed for ADHD are *not* more likely to become addicts-- some studies have found they are less likely, some have found the risk remains the same as if they weren't medicated, but none have found increased risk.

Curiously enough, recent research finds that kids who are prescribed any sort of medication *do not* have a higher risk of prescription drug abuse than those who are not prescribed them-- suggesting that kids think the drugs they are given legitimately are by that very reason seen as not likely to be fun.

Also, steroids don't make you into a better athlete without working out-- similarly, you can take all the speed in the world but if you don't learn the material needed to pass a test, you're not going to pass it.

The problem is inequality of opportunity and the hypocrisy through which we provide speed to army pilots and bust truck drivers for taking the exact same drug. The problem is that the people who can afford enhancement are the people who least need it. But that's not a problem that is unique to enhancing drugs (think SAT prep, etc.) and one that we would prefer to avoid by having the same tired debates about drugs and "cheating."
posted by Maias at 12:47 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I would be surprised if the health risks of reasonable amphetamine use (recommended dosages, oral administration, use on an as-needed basis only) were greater than the health risks of, say, skiing. But I never hear anybody talk about skiing as a dangerous way to cope with the stresses of work.

People have been using amphetamines to improve performance for longer than Adderall has been around. The stigma attached to illegal drug use means that the only people that are willing to talk about their personal amphetamine use are people who are speaking against it. Everybody who had good experiences with amphetamine, then walked away from it, keep their mouths shut. And so the stigma reinforces itself.
posted by nathan v at 1:03 PM on March 13, 2008


If by addict you mean "needs speed to function," then we're all food, water and air addicts and diabetics are insulin addicts and people taking antidepressants are antidepressant addicts. In other words, the term becomes meaningless.

You're comparing apples & oranges here.

Food, water & air are physiological necessities for survival.

Insulin and (arguably) antidepressants are necessities for people who have pre-existing medical conditions.

On the other hand, when talking of things like speed (or heroin or nicotine etc), regular usage actually creates the condition whereby more of that same substance is required to fill the gap caused by the substance itself.

Comparing these dependency-creating substances with food, water & air does nothing to help anybody understand the nature of addiction.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:11 PM on March 13, 2008


I'm pretty sure that sort of distinction can't be made consistently, UbuRoivas. You've got the problem of, say, benzodiazepines. If you are going to classify an antidepressant as a necessity for some people you cannot refuse to classify an antianxiolytic (like a benzo) in the same way. And yet benzodiazepines create a very strong physical addiction where more of that substance is required to function properly, and it does so very quickly.

You're also writing off ADHD, narcolepsy, certain nervous system disorders and other conditions where speed (in the form of amphetamine salt) is a necessity because of a pre-existing medical condition. Are you denying that some people need stimulants to function normally? If not then you've already granted that amphetamines can be just as necessary as insulin and anti-depressants.

The more I think about it the less I think your distinction can be maintained for anything except water and air. Including insulin and antidepressants but not benzos and adderall is an arbitrary way to make a moral distinction not a practical one.
posted by Justinian at 4:36 PM on March 13, 2008


And skiing is a dangerous way to cope with the stresses of work. Not least of which because it's often a gateway pastime to snowboarding, which is far more dangerous, especially for your knees.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:38 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Justinian: the distinction I was trying to make was between necessary substances (for life, or for an existing medical condition) and unnecessary & potentially dependence-creating substances (eg taking speed to study).

Some people here seem to be conflating the 'need' use with the 'nice to have' use; that's all.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:43 PM on March 13, 2008


Well, the problem there is that "necessary" is a very slippery term. Does someone with ADHD "need" amphetamine salts? What about somebody who hasn't been officially diagnosed with ADHD but has a severe problem maintaining concentration on things like studying? How about somebody who can do it but finds it very difficult?

No matter where you draw the line, people will game the system to get an advantage for themselves. And believe me, these drugs will give you an advantage whether you meet the clinical definition of a disorder or not.
posted by Justinian at 4:50 PM on March 13, 2008


I'd imagine that most people with severe problems maintaining concentration - eg with undiagnosed ADHD - wouldn't be at university in the first place. Ditto, to a lesser extent, anybody who finds study very difficult.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:20 PM on March 13, 2008


Look, there is not a right or wrong answer to whether or not taking Adderall as a study aid is cheating or not on the personal morality level. If you think, for instance, that Barry Bonds' claim to the world record title is as legitimate, honorable and impressive as Hank Aaron's then it follows that you wouldn't consider such activity cheating. It is up for debate.

I'm just saying you can't really fault universities bound to uphold the law for classifying it as cheating.

When you take it outside a classroom setting to a lab where scientists are attempting to actually cure cancer and it helps them achieve that goal that's another story. Hey, whatever works, right?
posted by Jess the Mess at 5:37 PM on March 13, 2008


I sense a bit of ingrained US War-on-Drugs moralizing going on in this discussion.

I mostly object to the recreational use of drugs like Adderall because of a (perhaps unfair) sense that it somehow trivializes the very legitimate therapeutic purpose it serves for some.

I don't think that its use constitutes cheating. It doesn't provide superhuman strength or intelligence. Students have been taking stimulants to boost productivity for a long time -- diet pills or caffeine pills or whatever. The pills don't crack the book and do the reading for them.

Not to say that I think it's wise to use stimulants recreationally. I think it's probably unhealthy and sets up expectations for one's self that are difficult to live up to.

Whoever it was preaching about how addictive Adderall is neglects to add that drugs affect people differently and that YMMV. I personally have not found Adderall addicting. The XR formulation (extended release) did not have a drop-off of affect in the short-term and in the longer term I simply went back to having a hard time functioning and dropped out of school... again. When I took dexadrine the effects lasted about 4 hours (sort half-life or whatever) but I didn't crash afterward. Maybe it takes high doses to experience this. But as with any discussion of side-effects of drugs, it needs to be said that everyone's experience is different.

UbuRoivas is mostly right that people with dire executive function problems probably aren't even in challenging university programs. Or, at least as was the case for me, not for long.
posted by loiseau at 6:25 PM on March 13, 2008


I'd imagine that most people with severe problems maintaining concentration - eg with undiagnosed ADHD - wouldn't be at university in the first place. Ditto, to a lesser extent, anybody who finds study very difficult.

As mentioned, I can vouch personally for the fact that this isn't the case, and you yourself pointed out above that much of academic survival is merely strategic. It's the high-achieving people who are most likely to be undiagnosed. It's only where the gap between capacity and results is glaring that people really tend to ask questions about it.
posted by spiderwire at 6:57 PM on March 13, 2008


I think I can vouch for that one, too. I typed up a somewhat arrogant disclaimer that the rule doesn't apply to "high achieving" people, who often have short attention spans simply because they got the concept in the first five mintues of class, then got bored with it and spent the rest of the time flitting from one thing to another, sometimes making connections back to the matter at hand; otherwise just following all kinds of flights of fancy.

But we have all kinds of coping mechanisms. For example, I often work on at least twelve different things at once, dropping by this place to refresh from time to time. This doesn't apply in "flow" type situations, though, so it's more a function of holding interest, rather than some kind of innate inabiltiy to concentrate.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:50 PM on March 13, 2008



What *is* cheating, however, is pretending to have ADHD so you can get speed for the SATs and *also* getting extra time for the test. If you have ADHD and take medication that works, you shouldn't need extra time; if you don't have ADHD, you shouldn't get speed plus extra time. I am not sure how to fix this-- perhaps you should be able to take meds or get extra time but not both?
posted by Maias at 7:58 PM on March 13, 2008


What *is* cheating, however, is pretending to have impotence so you can get Viagra for the SATs (sexy afterhours trysts) and *also* getting extra time for the tryst. If you have impotence and take medication that works -

- Ah, I'm bored of trying to squeeze this joke together already...I wonder what's going on in the other threads...?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:35 PM on March 13, 2008


You guys sound like Jedi apologists. Hey, if you inherited midichlorians, you get to be a Jedi and the rest of the universe has to make way for you whenever you're up to antics that would get anyone else arrested. If not, tough, you will never ever get the chance to have a light saber.

I wonder what it is about our species or our society that holds biologically derived traits in such high regard, even calling people "heroes" when they use them to advantage, but castigates anyone using science (i.e., human knowledge and ingenuity) to put themselves on a level playing field.
posted by vsync at 8:46 AM on March 14, 2008


nootropics are good, damn it. I've had this argument so many times that I can't even muster the energy to make it again. I'd kill (well, bruise, anyway) for cheap, easy access to them and as our understanding of the brain improves I'm sure they'll get safer, less addictive, and more effective. Who wouldn't want to max out their potential? These don't add anything to you just crank what you have up beyond where it usually goes. Bah. I'm tired and I don't have access to modafinil to fix it.
posted by Grod at 1:07 PM on March 14, 2008


I wonder what it is about our species or our society that holds biologically derived traits in such high regard, even calling people "heroes" when they use them to advantage, but castigates anyone using science (i.e., human knowledge and ingenuity) to put themselves on a level playing field.

That's an interesting question.

The argument against steroids in sport is that if one athlete takes them to gain an advantage, then others will, too, until everybody is on roids, and you have the same uneven playing field again, where those 'innately' faster etc will still be on top, except that everybody is fucked over by the side effects.

Intellectual performance enhancing drugs could be seen in the same light. It's not levelling the playing field, it's just moving the entire field up a notch, while introducing a bunch of dangerous weeds.

I suspect there's also a slight hangover from the Romantic genius v Enlightenment man of science memewar going on, too. We tend to value 'gifted' people with 'natural' talent against plain hard workers.

But you're begging the question, anyway. Science is, in fact, used in sports & learning. If you want to play professional sports, there are all kinds of scientific training techniques, diets, and dietary supplements, not to mention sports psychology, or even the use of statistical techniques to analyse individual & team performances. Top level sports today lean heavily on science.

In academia, it isn't so obvious, but you could look to memory-enhancing techniques, or techniques for maximising your efficiency when studying (eg read the text one day; skim it lightly the day after; skim again a week later). Taking notes in various formats, indexing material on your computer, using voice recorders in lectures, hell, even library cards are the result of human knowledge and ingenuity.

We just stop short of endorsing some mind & body altering chemicals. Vitamin B good, Adderall bad.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:25 PM on March 14, 2008


Where're the pill-happy psychologists for people who think too much?

At your friendly, neighbourhood methadone clinic.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:39 PM on March 14, 2008


UbuRoivas:
I suspect there's also a slight hangover from the Romantic genius v Enlightenment man of science memewar going on, too.We tend to value 'gifted' people with 'natural' talent against plain hard workers.
Keep in mind that both romantics and renaissance men loved and love their drugs... caffeine, nicotine, alcohol. Just look at Balzac on coffee.
But you're begging the question, anyway. Science is, in fact, used in sports & learning.
And you're setting up a straw man, but go on...
If you want to play professional sports, there are all kinds of scientific training techniques, diets, and dietary supplements, not to mention sports psychology, or even the use of statistical techniques to analyse individual & team performances. Top level sports today lean heavily on science.
Yup, but if you're not naturally biased toward sports, you're either just a clumsy loser or if you use science to level the playing field you're a cheater. Look what happens when anyone takes their asthma medication, or wears their prosthetic legs rather than running a marathon on stumps.
In academia, it isn't so obvious, but you could look to memory-enhancing techniques, or techniques for maximising your efficiency when studying (eg read the text one day; skim it lightly the day after; skim again a week later). Taking notes in various formats, indexing material on your computer, using voice recorders in lectures, hell, even library cards are the result of human knowledge and ingenuity.
Okay, now what about ADHD which is what this discussion is about? What if your brain is broken with regard to studying in the first place?

I'm not ADHD as far as I know. But I was treated for depression some time ago, and I found with therapy and various drugs (some prescription, some not) that the mental fog I'd had all my life, that I thought was normal and I was just undisciplined and lazy, that kept me staring into space or wandering off on the Web when I was trying my hardest to get something done, just torturing my brain and getting very little out of it, disappeared instantly. I realized what normal was supposed to feel like. Not only that, but I was able to begin building habits that helped me when the dosage was reduced and even when I stopped the medication entirely I could still make use of the newfound discipline.
We just stop short of endorsing some mind & body altering chemicals. Vitamin B good, Adderall bad.
Who's we? What medical board have you been certified by that you get to crap all over Adderall?
posted by vsync at 10:00 PM on March 20, 2008


I've been certified by various medical boards.

No, hang on, I think the term they used was "sectioned".

No matter. The important issue at hand is how in the hell do you do those indented paragraphs? This truly is an innovation here.

I'd look it up using View Source, but that would be cheating.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:29 AM on March 21, 2008


it's the >blockquote< tag.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:24 AM on March 21, 2008


obrigado
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:48 AM on March 21, 2008


Yes but you have to watch out for MetaFilter's broken parsing of newlines. My entire post was one giant line of text :(
posted by vsync at 9:57 AM on March 21, 2008


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