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Neuroenhancing Drugs
April 21, 2009 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Brain Gain: The underground world of “neuroenhancing” drugs. [Via]
posted by homunculus (42 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
The author was on Fresh Air yesterday.
posted by Liver at 1:26 PM on April 21, 2009


Now that we are calling them neuroenhancers they are nothing like the amphetamines previous generations used to take.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:32 PM on April 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm been really curious about Modafinil for years now, but I've never felt comfortable asking a doctor for a prescription. It just seems too much like being a skeezy junkie about the whole thing, especially considering how much press it has gotten in the last few years.
posted by aspo at 1:34 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Smart drinks are back!
posted by box at 1:34 PM on April 21, 2009


And yeah, Adderall is just small doses of speed taken orally. It may help if you have ADHD/ADD, but abusing it and calling it a neuroenhancer is pretty bullshit.
posted by aspo at 1:35 PM on April 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


“I alternated between speaking too quickly and thoroughly on some subjects and feeling awkwardly quiet during other points of the discussion.” Lunch was a blur: “It’s always hard to eat much when on Adderall.” That afternoon, he went to the library, where he spent “too much time researching a paper rather than actually writing it—a problem, I can assure you, that is common to all intellectually curious students on stimulants.” At eight, he attended a two-hour meeting “with a group focussed on student mental-health issues.” Alex then “took an extended-release Adderall” and worked productively on the paper all night. At eight the next morning, he attended a meeting of his organization; he felt like “a zombie,” but “was there to insure that the semester’s work didn’t go to waste.” After that, Alex explained, “I went back to my room to take advantage of my tired body.


When amphetamines are taken by mouth, snorted or smoked, the user usually experiences feelings of euphoria, heightened alertness and greater energy. Heart, breathing and blood pressure rates increase, and sensations of hunger and fatigue are reduced. Heart palpitations may be experienced. The mouth is usually dry and swallowing is difficult, which makes eating food difficult. Urination is also difficult.
posted by zabuni at 2:07 PM on April 21, 2009


modafinil is overrated and these stories of drugs helping you to work like a fucking maniac make a good story but have nothing to do with the reality.
posted by jfricke at 2:09 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


New psychiatric drugs have a way of creating markets for themselves. Disorders often become widely diagnosed after drugs come along that can alter a set of suboptimal behaviors.

So, what exactly are the substantive differences between Adderall and say the Benzedrine I've been prescribed to treat my diagnosed Minimum Brain Dysfunction?
posted by well_balanced at 2:17 PM on April 21, 2009


Often, I’ve looked back at papers I’ve written on Adderall, and they’re verbose. They’re belaboring a point, trying to create this airtight argument, when if you just got to your point in a more direct manner it would be stronger. But with Adderall I’d produce two pages on something that could be said in a couple of sentences.”

Aha. Aha. Ahahahahaha.

Years and years ago in a small nowherefuck town at a nowherefuck school, a young SJB would take dexedrine to help with his papers. He had a friend with SERIOUS ADHD, who would nonetheless sell him pills at $5 a pop. It was a pretty good deal.

So young SJB would start out the evening with 2 caps of dex (which came out to about 3 lines a piece), a pot of coffee, a pack of Parliaments, and whatever source material he'd haphazardly assembled.

Six hours later, the dex would be gone, the smokes would be gone, the 3rd pot of coffee drank, and a paper would be rolling off his Panasonic KXP-1123 dot matrix printer. (Hah!) Inevitably, the paper would be 12 pages when the assignment only called for 5. They were rarely very good.

In one notable case, the paper came back with a B grade and a single comment in red pen : "TOO MUCH PHILOSOPHICAL WANDERING."

Ironically, the paper was on the ceremonial uses of drugs in religion. Which just about tells you everything you need to know about where I was in my personal development at the time.
posted by Sloop John B at 2:26 PM on April 21, 2009 [9 favorites]


My experience with Adrafinil/Olmifon isn't necessarily that it made me work like a maniac, but I do seem to notice an increase in alertness and focus, enabling longer and more effective sessions of concentration. And for the most part, I've never observed any side effects (except potentially the first time I took it, though I'm not sure those headaches were related).

I can't envision living a lifestyle where I felt I needed to take it regularly in order to function at the expected level, but I don't see a problem with using it as an occasional boost for a project, or using it to make sure I'm alert on long distance drives.
posted by weston at 2:32 PM on April 21, 2009


The single biggest productivity gain I've seen in the last year came when I added metafilter to my leechblock add-on. But I'm going to have fun looking for speed-fuelled philosophical wandering when I grade the stack of undergraduate papers that are waiting for me at home this evening.
posted by sy at 2:36 PM on April 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


On the other hand of my somewhat pro-enhancer comment.... I think anybody who's planning to market this stuff is probably crossing over from the realm of dicey ethical questions into actual evil. It is one thing for individuals to decide that their own goals require them to use a cognitive enhancer after weighing the consequences of using these drugs. It's another thing to get out there and actively sow the idea that your natural brain just isn't good enough and if you just had this product you could be so much more.

I think Zack and Casey Lynch have already crossed that boundary, and at least based on the brief segment in the article, I'd bet that they're not thinking about this because there's a big payday waiting for people who don't think about it.

"What’s the next form of human society? The neuro-society."

"Zack explained that he didn’t really like the term 'enhancement': What we’re really talking about is enabling people."

Barf.

"we’ll have improved neuroenhancers that some people will use purely 'for competitive advantage.'"

Everybody's got to use them or risk falling behind in the brave new modern global competitive marketplace....
posted by weston at 2:43 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Finally we can market shrooms as an imagination enhancer. My workweek gives me severe Enjoyment of Life Deficiency Disorder.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 2:54 PM on April 21, 2009


Please stop writing about drugs so I can continue taking them. Thanks.
posted by plexi at 2:56 PM on April 21, 2009


What we’re really talking about is enabling people.

Enabling indeed.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:57 PM on April 21, 2009


I wonder how "Alex" would feel upon finding out that the guy he hired to hang his drywall was riding rails in order to get the job done quicker?

Because that's what we're talking about. The calm, dispassionate tone of the article describing how young up-and-coming Ivy League go-getters would probably sound a lot different if it was about the use of meth by the working class.

That said, I would love to try Provigil sometime.
posted by lekvar at 3:06 PM on April 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


I take modafinil (Provigil) for idiopathic hypersomnia. In my experience it fulfils its primary task, to make me not feel tired. Side effects: an occasional mild "static buzz" sensation in my head, which can turn into a headache; vivid dreams if taken before sleep, which I occasionally do if I go to bed late and have to wake early; exacerbation of anxiety, if taken while in an anxious state; very mild anti-depressant/euphoric effect, I feel somewhat more cheerful on it; mild stimulus to talkativeness. I'm already a verbose writer, and I haven't noticed any difference there. I'm unsure if it helps me concentrate as such, although it definitely helps me not lose concentration due to sensations of tiredness.

I'm not sure what effects it would have on a person without a sleep disorder, or one who ordinarily sleeps very little. I haven't personally given any of mine to anyone else. None of my friends have volunteered. :) (Very few of my social circle are inclined to experiment with drugs at all.)

Fortunately in Australia it has recently been reclassified under Medicare/PBS and is available much more cheaply for certain conditions, including mine. Unfortunately, doctors have been told not to push this, and to wait until specifically asked by patients. So, if you are Australian and on modafinil, check in with your sleep specialist and ask about this. It's now even cheaper than imports from India.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:37 PM on April 21, 2009


Oh boy, a drug to make you work harder. At work. That sounds like a whole lot of fun. Thanks a fuckload, society.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:40 PM on April 21, 2009 [17 favorites]


Two friends of mine have used Modafinil. Both reported increased alertness and concentration, but not necessarily on the task they should be doing. One found that he couldn't sleep until about five in the morning, and the other was laughing and giggling nonsensically at stuff.

Furthermore, neither got them from doctors, so had to rely on websites whose provenance they had no idea of.

So yeah, perhaps not entirely beneficial.
posted by djgh at 3:43 PM on April 21, 2009


Piracetam ≠ Aderall, Provigil, Speed
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 3:45 PM on April 21, 2009


I'm waiting for the drug that temporarily makes me like "the Swiss" personality mod in George Alec Effinger's books. There are days when I couldn't focus with a gun to my head, and that can cause problems no matter your line of work.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:19 PM on April 21, 2009


Why is it that when you're upper-middle-class and abuse drugs you get such fancy words for them? "Neuroenhancers"? That would be like calling shrooms "creativity facilitators" or LSD tabs "philosophical aids" or cocaine "friskiness powder".
posted by Ndwright at 4:41 PM on April 21, 2009 [10 favorites]


Yeah, you're not giving your precious child speed, you're giving her neuroenhancers. Whatever gets you through the night.

modafinil is overrated and these stories of drugs helping you to work like a fucking maniac make a good story but have nothing to do with the reality.

One of us has never been around people rocking the speed train and I don't think its me. You might spend 9 hours cleaning your 50 ft^2 bathroom but by god it'll be so clean the Virgin Mary herself would be proud to go in there and take a dump when you're done.

Also: Modafinil seems to do what it says on the tin. That is, promote wakefulness.
posted by Justinian at 5:29 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Adderall and Ritalin are just legal cocaine minus the anticipation high of meeting your dealer and the risk of maybe doing some time upstate for possession.
posted by eggman at 7:36 PM on April 21, 2009


Adderall and Ritalin are just legal cocaine

Methamphetamine. Cocaine is different!

Ok, Adderall is actually a mixture of dextroamphetamine salts and Ritalin is a related compound called methylphenidate which was just derived from amphetamines but the comparison is definitely with methamphetamine (aka speed, crank, crystal, ice, glass, molly, tina, etc) not cocaine which is rather different.
posted by Justinian at 9:38 PM on April 21, 2009


"[Phillips] picked me up at the Bend airport driving a black convertible BMW, and we went for coffee at a cheery café called Thump. Phillips wore shorts and flip-flops and his black T-shirt displayed an obscure programming joke."

I choose to view this as proof neuroenhancers don't help with taste.

Bring forth the taste enhancers!
posted by Kikkoman at 9:39 PM on April 21, 2009


My personal experience is that Modafinil does very, very little for my narcolepsy, and nothing for cateplexy. On rare occasion I have felt very alert after taking it, but the inconsistency was such that I could easily ascribe it to simple coincidence after having a good night's sleep. I don't know what it would do to you "normals," though I assume pretty-much what it was designed to do: remove your urge to sleep for a while. That doesn't in-and-of-itself make you more productive, mind-you. If you're lazy or bored, this is just going to give you another 8 hours of it. Modafinil acts entirely different on the brain than traditional aphetamines (which are very broad-based and, frankly, bad for you). Modafinil is also non-habit forming (physiologically, at least)—another advantage. I just wish it worked like they show in the movies.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:48 PM on April 21, 2009


Being the place where one would usually place an eponysterical, I believe.

Piracetam. Hmm...

posted by Minus215Cee at 9:48 PM on April 21, 2009


Kikkoman must remain MSG free!
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:59 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm about to graduate from a fairly competitive liberal arts college full of very serious young people who will do just about anything for a grade. I know a lot of people who use Aderall, Ritalin, etc., and they're not bad people for the most part. They're very careful about how they use those things, and it does seem that they can crank out way more work in a night than they might be able to otherwise. Here's the thing, though - I've never used study drugs because I've never had to. The number one reason that people I've talked to say they take Aderall is because they can't pull an all-nighter without it, or they have 4 papers all due at the end of the week. I'm just saying that a big part of this particular "drug problem" could probably be solved with better study habits. Seriously. Do a little bit of your work at a time and start early, and you never get to a point where you need a crutch like Aderall.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 7:40 AM on April 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


If this is where society is headed, I'm dropping out. See you on the railroad cars!
posted by cereselle at 8:28 AM on April 22, 2009


If this is where society is headed, I'm dropping out. See you on the railroad cars!

I'll be in my mountain cave seeking enlightenment the old fashioned way. Feel free to drop by though; staring at the wall all day can get tedious sometimes.

OTOH, What Would Buddha Do?
posted by homunculus at 8:44 AM on April 22, 2009


I'm not really concerned with Adderall or Modifinil per se; they are raising questions that are going to be very important in the next few years as more and more new drugs hit the market and people who are healthy start taking pills meant for those experiencing cognitive decline.

Example, healthy 20 somethings taking memory enhancers meant for aging dementia patients with memory issues.

The question becomes what are the ethics of such behavior and what does it mean for the playing field if all your competition is stacking themselves this way?
posted by daHIFI at 9:27 AM on April 22, 2009


The question becomes what are the ethics of such behavior and what does it mean for the playing field if all your competition is stacking themselves this way?

It's completely ethical.

Consider: Studying gives you a big competitive advantage in school when compared to people who don't study. If you've got a free ride to college is it then unethical to study because someone who has to work a full time job to pay for it doesn't have nearly as much time to devote to learning the material? The playing field isn't even, after all.

Is it unethical for a violinist who wants to beat twenty other violinists out for one spot in the symphony to practice more than the others? Does practicing to get better count as stacking the deck?

Why then would it be unethical to take sweet, sweet drugs neuroenhancers? Most arguments against it boil down to the fear that drugs neuroenhancers corrupt our precious bodily fluids.
posted by Justinian at 9:44 AM on April 22, 2009


Most arguments against it boil down to the fear that drugs neuroenhancers corrupt our precious bodily fluids.

Yeah, but the thing is, they might. We don't know yet. We do know that amphetamines, of which Ritalin and Adderall are a form, can have long-term side effects, but a lot of the other drugs are so new we don't even know what the potential side effects could be.

I think the ethical concerns about fairness are a little less pressing than the medical concerns about people feeling the pressure to take "performance enhancers" that may compromise their health in the long term.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:36 AM on April 22, 2009


Yeah, but the thing is, they might. We don't know yet.

Maybe. On the other hand, we do know that cheeseburgers, too much alcohol, fettucini alfredo, going to loud rock concerts, too much television, bacon, too much computer usage, ballet dancing as a child, and regularly getting too little sleep definitely can have long term side-effects. And yet all of that is legal and, often, encouraged.
posted by Justinian at 10:57 AM on April 22, 2009


wait wait, neuroenhancers? I have enough trouble with caffeine!
posted by Submiqent at 12:02 PM on April 22, 2009


Maybe. On the other hand, we do know that cheeseburgers, too much alcohol, fettucini alfredo, going to loud rock concerts, too much television, bacon, too much computer usage, ballet dancing as a child, and regularly getting too little sleep definitely can have long term side-effects. And yet all of that is legal and, often, encouraged.

Couldn't agree more...I'm just saying adding legalized amphetamine derivatives to that mix is maybe not such a great idea, and for reasons that have more to do with health than with fairness.
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:25 PM on April 22, 2009


I think the ethical concerns about fairness are a little less pressing than the medical concerns about people feeling the pressure to take "performance enhancers" that may compromise their health in the long term.

Also, I don't think that comparing adderall to something like anabolic steroids or other physical performance enhancers is really quite on the mark. It's one thing to have increased muscle density or physical stamina/endurance, but another thing to have your brain in a certain state.

Drugs don't increase the amount of neurons in the brain, they just enable a particular pattern to occur. Also, if you read most of the anecdotal information about "neuroenhancer" usage, you'll see that users tend to enjoy partying, playing video games, and generally overdoing their leisure time. A driven student who just uses caffeine will do just as well if not much better if they learn better daily time management habits.

We're probably a few generations of drug development away from any "neuroenhancers" that can actually give any real competitive advantages analogous to the performance enhancers that are banned in sports.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:30 PM on April 22, 2009


A driven student who just uses caffeine will do just as well if not much better if they learn better daily time management habits.

I'm all for legalized drugs neuroenhancers but I think you palmed a card here. It's undoubtedly true that a driven, intelligent student with time management skills will do better than a non-driven or less intelligent student using a carefully constructed regimen of so-called neuroenhancers (yes, I will stop with the strikethroughs). But that is a bit of a strawman.

The real question is whether a driven, intelligent student with time management skills using neuroenhancers will do better than a driven, intelligent student with time-management skills who isn't using neuroenhancers. And I think that, so long as the regimen of drugs is carefully constructed and adhered to (not snorting your buddies crushed-up Adderall XR in the bathroom and then partying with even more on the weekends) the student who uses the enhancers will do better. Even now with the shotgun-approach drugs like dextroamphetamine that are widely used today. And the gap will likely widen in the future with more carefully targeted drugs.

There's a reason so many people (including but not limited to students, professors, scientists, and mathematicians) use these things; they work. Many, many people use them in a dangerous or reckless manner and undoubtedly do more harm than good. But that's a question of usage not fundamental to the (gag) neuroenhancers.

Consider: Would mathematics be better off if Paul Erdos didn't spend his entire adult life riding the speed express? Oh, except for the month he didn't take any on a bet... and couldn't do mathematics. And which he considered a useless "lost month" for the rest of his life.

disclaimer: for gods sake don't take this as me telling anyone to go out and take speed.
posted by Justinian at 1:52 PM on April 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Shameless self-promotion: I wrote about this a while back here and here.
posted by Maias at 3:37 PM on April 22, 2009


Thanks, Mefi's Owntm Maias.

I almost gagged at the Kass quote in the Time piece:

As Leon Kass wrote for the President's Council on Bioethics in a 2003 report on enhancement, "We must live, or try to live, as true men and women, accepting our finite limits, cultivating our given gifts, and performing in ways that are humanly excellent. To do otherwise is to achieve our most desired results at the ultimate cost: getting what we seek or think we seek by no longer being ourselves."

I wonder if Kass would be so quick to accept our finite limits if he or a close loved one developed Alzheimer's or cancer.
posted by Justinian at 4:24 PM on April 22, 2009


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