Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Neuroenhancing Drugs

The New Yorker once again stunned me with an article that I was extraordinarily interested in. The article is called "Bran Gain" by Margaret Talbot and it's on this new culture of neuroenhancing drugs--drugs like Adderall and Ritalin that many college students are starting to take in order to stay up longer to produce papers and projects.

When I was a college student myself, I was introduced to this culture of taking Adderall. However, I never needed to take it and never did. Many of my friends took it, but these friends were people who had a very difficult time focusing, some of them who might even had undiagnosed learning disabilities. I'm not excusing their behavior by any means, but I am perhaps diagnosing why they had to resort to Adderall at the end of each semester.

Why would my friends (and other students) take Adderall? Many of my friends would procrastinate and save things until the last minute. One friend had a forty page paper due (which should have been done in increments throughout the semester), but she blew it off. Instead, she popped a few pills and stayed up for days typing the thing away. Other friends would cram for tests, but many would use it to write long term papers. They say that it worked pretty well.

But, there were some downsides to it. Some of my friends would get a little "sloppy" and "under the influence" and instead of cramming for a test or churning out a paper, they would end up going on rampages to do other things. One friend felt so obligated to clean his apartment, so instead of working, he cleaned every last inch of his apartment. Another friend was pretty drugged up and basically talked with another friend for hours (both who were on it). Another friend was TOO into it and was bugging out. She couldn't focus on the task because she was overthinking it. The drugs actually stalled her progress.

So, unfortunatly, Adderall can go both ways. It can really push students towards the finish line to finish long projects or papers or it could be detrimental and make the student even farther behind. Note of wisdom: Just don't procrastinate to have to take these pills...

Before college, I had never heard of these kinds of pills. Many students would sell them right around finals time. Many people would even ask if I had any that they could buy. I never wanted to get involved in this stuff. But, the thing is, this culture is becoming more and more popular. This world of neuroenhancing drugs is growing rapidly as we speak, and it's a little scary if so many students need to depend on these drugs instead of learning time management.

I mean, are you really learning something if you're cramming in dark hours as opposed to learning slowly over a period of time? No. It's just cheating the learning you could be doing. The brain slowly learns over time through repetition, exposure, and practice. One night will not do justice to any learning process. It's a travesty. Then we will churn out these college students who really don't know too much. What kind of a society are we producing?

I want to include some interesting notes and facts from the article on these neuroenhancing drugs, including Adderall and Ritalin. Enjoy:

-Both drugs are normally prescribed to children and adult who have ADHD--Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It makes people become "high-functioning, overcommitted."

-"In 2005 [...] the University of Michigan's Substance Abuse Research Center reported that in the previous year 4.1% of American undergraduates had taken prescription stimulants for off-label use; at one school, the figure was 25%."

-"A 2002 study at a small college found that more than 35% of the students had used prescription stimulants nonmedically in the previous year."

-"Drugs such as Adderall can cause nervousness, headaches, sleeplessness, and decreased appetite, among other side effects."

-Adderall has high potential for drug abuse and can possibly lead to cardiac problems later on in life.

-"White male undergraduates at highly competitive schools--especially in the Northeast--are the most frequent collegiate users of neuroenhancers."

-"Users are also more likely to belong to a fraternity or sorority, and have a GPA of 3.0 or lower."

-In the scientific journal Nature, people polled were asked if their senses are sharper and if their focus, concentration, and memory are sharper on neuroenhancing drugs. 1 out of 5 respondents said that it did.

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

-"He didn't really like the term "enhancement:" We're not talking about superhuman intelligence. No one's saying we're going to come out with a pill that's going to make you smarter than Einstein! ... What we're talking about is enabling people."

Some people argue that taking these neuroenchancing drugs makes it an unequal education and those who take it have an unfair advantage and edge over those who don't. Some schools even want to test students for taking them to make sure that they are fairly completing final assignments.

Others believe that anything that helps intelligence is a good thing. If there are so called "smart pills," why shouldn't we be allowed to use them? There are both sides to the argument.

Some students, as depicted in the article, take them because they simply need to keep up with other students in a fast-paced environment like Harvard, and the only way they can do so is to take these drugs. Another individual depicted in the article was a poker player who focuses much better on the game when under the influence of this drug. Since then, he's made tons of money. The question is, is it fair?

And, are classes really getting harder? It seems that standards have actually been dumbed down in the past few years. Or, were these people who just couldn't keep up ones who dropped out? Was it like survival of the fittest? If we allow these people to get through, who are we really pushing by? Will they be successful and adequate for the degree they will have? Hm...

I also know that I might be offending people who often take Adderall as the culture is slowly growing. And maybe I have a difficult time understanding it since I never needed stimulants to help me focus. I was born with the uncanny ability to do so on command. Maybe I'm not seeing the whole picture, but I'm also trying to look at it from a health perspective and a cultural perspective. The key to my argument is fairness. I hate to see people who slack off and goof off and then pull everything off in the last minute. The real world doesn't work that way, and when that lesson DOES come, it will be quite shocking. Some people just try to push this off forever and ever, and it will eventually catch up to that person. We are eventually held accountable someday; I just think that students in college should be held accountable. I mean, they're basically adults at that point. When else will the reality check set in?

So what do you think about neuroenhancing drugs?


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