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Biotech Science

Many Scientists Using Performance Enhancing Drugs 955

docinthemachine is one of several readers to send word of a new poll published in Nature showing unprecedented levels of cognitive performance-enhancing drug abuse by top academic scientists. The poll, conducted among subscribers to Nature, surveyed 1,400 scientists from 60 nations (70% from the US). 20% reported using performance-enhancing drugs. Among the drug-using population, 62% used Ritalin, 44% used Provigil, and 15% used beta-blockers like Inderal. Frequency of use was evenly divided among those who used drugs daily, weekly, monthly, and once a year. All such use without a prescription is illegal.
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Many Scientists Using Performance Enhancing Drugs

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  • Beta blockers? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AltGrendel ( 175092 ) <ag-slashdot.exit0@us> on Thursday April 10, 2008 @11:54AM (#23025474) Homepage
    Most beta blockers [] are used as a treatment for high blood pressure. Surely the stress levels that these scientists experience would justify that kind of prescription.
  • by qwertphobia ( 825473 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @11:57AM (#23025522)

    Good point. I think anyone doing research with public money should do their research as efficiently as possible. Don't let those silly FDA guidelines get in the way.

    Is that your stance, too? It's hard to tell from your post.

    It would be interesting to see how many of the research is being done in the areas of pharmaceuticals and/or cognitive functions.

  • by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <.Satanicpuppy. .at.> on Thursday April 10, 2008 @12:02PM (#23025608) Journal
    How do you figure? I mean, they should be getting grants because they're good at what they do, right? If the drugs are a part of that, then they're a part of the reason the guy is getting the grant in the first place.

    Somebody said it above; this isn't sports. It's not "cheating" to use a performance enhancing drug in your job. Most of us are addicted to a common one: caffeine. That's considered perfectly normal, but if you're using Provigil without a prescription its a wholly different thing.

    The problem is one of perception. Some things are "drugs" and shouldn't be "abused", and some other things that seemingly belong in that category as well...aren't there.

  • Re:And what about... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DrLang21 ( 900992 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @12:02PM (#23025618)
    I actually do use caffeine specifically for performance enhancement. Its effects on norepinephrine levels in the brain are similar to that of amphetamines, though far less severe.
  • by DogDude ( 805747 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @12:03PM (#23025628)
    What's "right" and "wrong" in regards to what I do to my own body has nothing to do with society. It's nobody's business but my own.
  • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Thursday April 10, 2008 @12:05PM (#23025656) Homepage Journal

    Laws are made when a majority who are elected, hold the same philosophical beliefs create and vote for them.

    Well, ideally, yes. The problem comes when those "philosophical beliefs" consist of metrics evaluating which special interest group provided them with the most benefits, which of the other legislators will trade a vote their way now, for a vote you want for pork in your distract later, how actions now will affect standing within the political party (note not with the voters, which is something else entirely), what lucrative speaking engagements will be offered post-legislative career, and so forth.

    Your approach would be spot on in a situation where legislators voted along the philosophical lines that they shared truthfully with the public during a fair election process; however, that in no way describes this country. And that's not an opinion — that's a fact.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2008 @12:10PM (#23025728)
    I'm a research scientist at a top-10 uni, just made assoc. professor.

    While I would not say problems from use of anything "harder" than caffeine is wildly rampant, I was involved in a case with an undergraduate student who had some very severe issues with provigil (modafanil.) It was prescribed for "ADHD" in this (otherwise bright IMHO), and she simply noted her improvement, and started taking it excessively, ultimately sleeping very few hours and irregularly. After a period of great improvement she failed three successive exams and had to take some time off.

    It is an anecdote, I know, but talking with the dean and admins at the undergrad part of my uni they see 20-30 cases per year of academic downfall associated with prescription stimulant use. Of course, who knows what these kids would have done *without* the drug, but the pattern of use / dependence / excessive use / "crash" is pretty established.

    Among my friends / colleagues (mainly in their mid 30's) I would agree about 2/3 have tried something like ritalin or modafanil, primarily to stay up late. Personally, I keep myself on pretty low doses of caffeine so I can still use the 3 cans of mountain dew to keep up before a grant application is due, etc.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2008 @12:12PM (#23025774)
    It's really unfortunate when it is. My apartment was raided by the police because my roommates (whom I did not elect to live with, but was placed with) were relatively heavy drug dealers. The police found a single adderall pill stuck in the corner of one of my drawers that I had completely forgotten about. I had tried adderall about three times and, although it helped me study, it wasn't worth the disruption to my sleep habits (it gives you horrible insomnia). I threw the last pill I had in a drawer and forgot about it. The pill had been there for about six months.

    While I won't be serving any jail time, my future as I intended it is more or less over. I'm currently a convicted felon serving three years probation, having to attend an intensive drug rehab course, and worst of all, I lost my federal aid that was helping pay for my grad school. Once you include the legal fees, the loss of my state entitlements, and the loss of my federal aid, I am currently looking at around a $30,000 price tag that I can't afford because of a single pill that was found because of a search that wasn't even my fault. More than likely, I will have to withdraw from grad school after this semester, despite being less than a year away from completing my PhD.
  • Adderall XR (Score:4, Interesting)

    by psychicsword ( 1036852 ) * <> on Thursday April 10, 2008 @12:13PM (#23025794)
    I use Adderall damn that drug is addictive. I can stay up all night then take that and I feel good as new an hour later. Plus it has the benefit for me of allowing me to concentrate better and get more work done. It also stops me from clicking the damn stumbleupon button for hours on end. With it I get twice as much work done and can think twice as well.

    Please note I do have a prescription for it and I dont even need to fake ADD to get it, just he gives me a slightly higher dose than I might need.
  • Re:Caffeine? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <.Satanicpuppy. .at.> on Thursday April 10, 2008 @12:19PM (#23025876) Journal
    The thing is, it's not hard to get a prescription for Provigil; just keep complaining of tiredness to your doctor until he prescribes it...Is he going to tell you you're lying about it?

    I don't know of any serious side-effects other than those attendant on other stimulants. It's been out for about 25 years, so you'd think they would have shown up by now, so the cocaine analogy is flawed. If caffeine was illegal, would consuming it be okay?
  • Re:Beta blockers? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by laurier57 ( 1181021 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @12:26PM (#23025958)
    Beta blockers are often used by public speakers or those presenting papers as it prevents many of the physical effects of performance anxiety--red in the face, sweating, clamminess--so they can at least appear and feel composed enough to say whatever they're saying.
  • by Duradin ( 1261418 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @12:32PM (#23026016)
    It is by will alone I set my mind in motion...

    Also, where do you draw the line between drugs and things like proper nutrition?

    By consuming an optimal diet of the proper nutrients (which are just specific chemical compounds) am I really a lesser person because I did not make my achievements while on a near starvation diet?

    Am I cheating by juicing up more vegetables than I could eat whole and obtaining all those extra nutrients?
  • by jageryager ( 189071 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @12:32PM (#23026018)
    _You_ can drink drugs are "self-defeating".. But who cares? If I used drugs to save my life, then I would say that is good. I won't even stop to think about how I have degraded myself by staying alive. I don't think any cancer survivors feel any smaller because they needed to use drugs to beat cancer..

    If I use drugs to clear my head to solve an important problem, then I don't consider that problem any less solved. I'm not working on solving a problem just to see if I can do it... I want to save the world for the world's sake, not my sake.

    I would say that this line of thinking is kind of "selfish" in a way. The need for people to believe sports are fair and uncompromised by drugs has skewed the way people think of performance enhancment. Enhancement is good. We like enhancement. Get over it.

  • Oh yeah (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2008 @12:38PM (#23026114)
    I've certainly had a lot of help from the so-called "hippie speedball" -- i.e. caffeine-laden energy drinks or coffee in combination with cannabis (smoked or eaten). I've found that this makes design tasks very, very interesting and quite satisfying to work on. As always, specifications and designs drafted this way are drafts and should go through the usual re-drafting, rewriting and reviewing process the same as every other design document.

    This might not work for everyone. I was almost diagnosed as an ADD kid a decade back. But for me, pot of tea or two + laptop + bonghits + armchair usually equals a workable design to some end.

    And hey, it's not even prescription pharmaceuticals (unless you're in california)!
  • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @12:53PM (#23026356)

    I would heartlessly argue that someone who's rushed to the ER because they were partying too hard and spending all their money on drugs instead of health insurance shouldn't be treated with the bill paid by society's safety net the same way as, say, a homeless person hit by a car should be treated.

    There are two reasons why ER care is financially backed by the government. The first is a moral, no one should be allowed to die just because they are down on their luck. In that sense, your distinction is valid.

    But the second is pragmatic and merges the two cases. Time is of the essence in the ER. Confirming insurance or bank account info would require either a) a lot of time b) a scary big brother database. Both seem worse costs than the status quo if this is the only concern.

    However, if you believe in the first reason (as you seem to), then they have to determine not only if you can pay, but if you cannot, why. That implies either a lot more time or a much scarier big brother database in those instances.

  • Re:Caffeine? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @12:54PM (#23026364) Journal
    Yes. You have a fundamental right to control your own biochemistry. It is those who would deny you those rights who are in the wrong, not those who exercise that right.
  • Re:And what about... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Deanalator ( 806515 ) <> on Thursday April 10, 2008 @12:59PM (#23026448) Homepage
    Interestingly, Provigil (Modafinil) is more effective, safer, less addictive, and has less side effects when compared in side by side studies with caffeine.

    Modafinil should be in soft drinks, and the fact that you can't buy it over the counter is ridiculous. []
  • by docinthemachine ( 1031976 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @01:20PM (#23026732) Homepage
    I appreciate /. linking to my post on this topic- I wanted to a share some further details of the drugs. I predict the potential for use/abuse of these agents to be unprecedented. The primary agents to hit the streets are eugaroics. They are a class of novel stimulants that produce long-lasting mental arousal. They are unique in producing hypervigilence and alertness without peripheral effects or addidition of usual stimulants. Strangely, they have minimal effect on sleep structure, and do not cause rebound hypersomnolence (crashing). You might also be interested in Ampakines are similar but also cause memory enhancement (just a bit of abuse potential there). One of these - a drug code-named CX717 from Cortex - reportedly enabled sleep deprived rhesus monkeys to outperform rested normal monkeys on memory tasks. all the juicy details are here: [] and [] the biggest issue here is how far would you go to enhance your body's performance if risks were minimal? Would you take a drug, implant a bionic retina? or replace your limbs with bionic ones. Discussions I have had with those on the international olympic committee and DARPA indicate many many people will go the route of biomodification. A discussion of this concept is here: []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2008 @01:20PM (#23026734)
    Did your lawyer suck? Proving that you were even aware that that pill was there, let alone that you put it there is nearly impossible. If you had denied everything the DA probably would of dumped the case because it's not worth it to try and win such a stupid case. Worst case they would offer you a deal where you agree to community service and drug counseling. If you aren't trolling then you really got fucked hard.

    I had a friend in college who lived with dealers and had almost a half ounce of weed in his dorm when it was raided. He got sent to through the campus "grievance" system (which is not actually part of the legal system) and had no real consequences besides a year of academic probation and some mandatory drug counseling sessions in the campus counseling center. The dealers of course were prosecuted and are in prison for 10+ years.
  • Re:Provigil (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sjs132 ( 631745 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @01:20PM (#23026744) Homepage Journal
    I also use Provigil, but because I have sleep apnea.. Even WITH my mask and CPAP, I have huge sleep disruptions. The Dr's suggested surgery, but admitted that it may not provide much relief and I may
    actually still need the CPAP... Therefore, I use the CPAP as much as I can, and pop the Provigil on
    the days when I can tell I didn't get any sleep. My only side effect that I've found is talking. Once
    I pop a Provigil, about 1/2 hour later, I can't shutup. I will just rattle on and on... And for the
    folks at work, they knew right away that something was wrong till I explained why I had to take it.

    As for brain enhancement, etc... Naw... Just makes you awake. Though I'll be the first to admit that
    it is rather distracting to fall asleep while your trying to think of something. :)

    BTW, For those planning on using this as a reason to get Provigil, you have to have REAL evidence of a
    problem. I had a RUDE AWAKENING when I bumped into another vehicle at a stop light. I fell asleep
    at the wheel waiting for it to turn green. Luckily nobody was hurt, and it made me drop the excuses as
    to why I was tired at work.
  • Re:Adderall XR (Score:3, Interesting)

    by psychicsword ( 1036852 ) * <> on Thursday April 10, 2008 @02:34PM (#23027858)

    How did you approach your physician about this to get the drug prescribed? Did you just explain your problem and express interest in a medical solution? I had always thought doctors would be reluctant to try a pharmaceutic approach with an adult and have been hesitant to ask.
    I have been on ADD medications since third grade(now a freshman in college) about every three years they retest me, so I cant really help you there. But if you are having a problem just explain it to them. I recently restarted taking Adderall after trying to go Straterra only and asked my doctor if he could switch me from the 1x 15mg pill to 3x 5mg pills so I could figure out a correct dose based on how badly I needed it. Because my mom picks it up at the local pharmacy and ships it to me he was worried that she was taking it instead of me. The doctors are definitely worried people will abuse it and will perform the test for ADD which is very lenient and because you are an adult they may or may not trust you more. If you explain all your symptoms and tell them you have tried to work in a less distracting environment then they shouldn't give you as hard of a time. There is one thing I do know for a fact, Straterra doesn't work half as well as Adderall does so if it is offered I recommend you ask to try a different drug first.
    Also the doctor will require you to make frequent appointments(every 1-3 months) and there are no refills on the Adderall prescriptions so you need to call up your doctor each month(the max allowed number of pills they can give you) for a new one. I really think adderall helps and if you are having a serious problem then I highly suggest you see a doctor because it has helped me a lot over the last 10 years. Also, I have yet to check up on it but there is a possibility that your regular Physician could prescribe it to you, but I haven't tried it yet.
  • by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @02:42PM (#23027950)

    I have no clue how to go doctor shopping; I come by my drugs the hard way (ie, having problems that really screw up my life if I'm not on them).

    Of course, my personal sense of ethics says these drugs should be available to anyone making an informed choice. At least some doctors are willing to prescribe low doses to people they feel are responsible and would be helped by them. If you're intending to use them non-recreationally (ie, to help with focus) you may well qualify. So seriously, if you and your doctor have a good relationship, just... ask. Tell them you have difficulty focusing sometimes (or whatever the case is) and were wondering if some sort of stimulant might help. Don't lie to them, or exagerrate symptoms. There's quite possibly no need, and it probably won't work (not to mention being illegal and imo unethical).

    In short, if you want to convince a physician that CNS stimulants would enhance your quality of life... then tell them so :) Say why you think that's true, and approach the issue as asking your doctor for help, not trying to con them out of drugs.

    There are a variety of drug options, as well as non-drug options (various techniques for focusing, etc -- they actually do work, and they work in concert with the drugs as well). You'll want to get detailed input from someone who knows the drugs better than you or I, so give them all the info they need and give them correct info.

  • Re:And what about... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @02:50PM (#23028038)

    In my experience (both first hand and otherwise) that's very true at low levels, but becomes much less true at higher doses. Caffeine causes the jitters while having a comparable effect to a relatively mild dose of amphetamines (ie, a dose that generally will produce much lower side effect incidence).

    It's similar to the difference between laevo- and dextro-amphetamines (though more pronounced) -- the laevo-amphetamines cause more jitters, the dextro-amphetamines are better at making you focus. This is why Adderall is generally preferred to normal (racemic) amphetamine (it's a mix of the two, but weighted toward dextro-amphetamine).

  • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @03:26PM (#23028458)
    And actually... since you do quite well for the most part, in reality I am paying for it.

    My health insurance rates are set so that you can be paid your normal wage, the rent can be paid, the bills for drugs can be paid despite providing mandated free healthcare for people without healthcare.

    Something like this
    $0/300/$300 Illegal Immigrant/Young Party Animal/Homeless saint who helped society/Single Unemployed Widowed Mother
    $680/300/0 Four people with insurance getting the same thing done. ($30 goes to the insurance company, $50 sales tax)

    The problem comes externalizing costs becomes the majority (which it sort of is now...something like 60% of people in the US rely on other people to pay for some or all of their healthcare). Which is why Medicare is going to be completely bankrupt in 2019 (hey... 11 YEARS away-- very soon).

  • by rkcallaghan ( 858110 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @03:29PM (#23028484)
    deathmonkey wrote:

    A fat person with no insurance should not get treated either.
    I'm overweight, now, because I didn't get treated without insurance when I needed it. My tale of how I'm not allowed to work in the US anymore, due to government bigotry, has been detailed here before. The short version though, is that I was an able bodied, upstanding natural born Caucasian US citizen.

    I don't have insurance now, and likely never will. I didn't several years ago either, when I broke my foot. Since that was apparently not emergency enough (I obviously didn't die, no life threat..); I didn't get treated.

    Now I'm overweight, because I can barely stand up to get to the bathroom. When I was younger, I was physically active on a daily basis. I had practiced Taekwondo since I was 11, and was in great shape.

    So a hearty fuck you to you, and all the moderators who gave you a +5 for this stupidity. Not everyone who's overweight (or even most, from what I can tell) got their by eating nothing but Big Macs and Twinkies.

  • by Eli Gottlieb ( 917758 ) <> on Thursday April 10, 2008 @03:49PM (#23028732) Homepage Journal
    That's the best analogy for the issue I've seen so far. Do we want our scientists to be human beings or Guild Navigator-esque mutants who interact little with normal society?
  • by steelfood ( 895457 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @05:59PM (#23030174)
    This is slightly off topic, but one can either agree that morality (right and wrong) is subjective, and hence is completely open to debate, or morality is objective, and hence there is one and only one (Universal) right. There can be no middle ground.

    It is easy to point to the presence of the debate itself as a method of validation for the former side to the argument. However, for the latter, the burden of proof is upon the person making such an assertion. After all, if moral right and wrong are facts, then it can be shown to apply universally, to all and to all situations. Should any situation be morally ambigious, then moral objectivity cannot hold true (one cannot have some morals be objective and some subjective--only that some are subjective and uncommon, and some are subjective and common). The only approach to truly assert truth and fallacy is through mathematics. Unfortunately, this is impossible, and thus most on the latter side emply the second best method, the scientific method.

    However, most accounts of conflict show no clear moral line of right and wrong. Some of this is in part, are due to conflicts of social acceptability, conflicts of perception, even conflicts of memory. And even when such conflicts are not relevant, the line that is established will move over time. That we are capable of changing our minds, whether it be slightly, or completely, not attributable to an external force is sufficient to illustrate this point.

    Or perhaps, to make the argument more concise, because the invididual as a self is capable of subjectivity, our morals, which are to the best of our ability to prove through scientific inquiry, a property of the system known as the self, are therefore subjective.

    The body of science that deals with consciousness and perception unconditionally show this. Thus in order to assert the reality objective morals, one must discredit the scientific method of experimentation and validation--in which case, nothing is or can be proven.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2008 @06:08PM (#23030264)
    When I was charged with it, I thought for sure it would get dropped as well. I couldn't believe it. I didn't skimp with a cheap lawyer, but the simple fact of the matter is that I was in possession of the drugs. It was in my room, and when I was asked if it was mine, I said yes (I was there when they raided the apartment). My lawyer attempted to get me off on the search warrant, but it was specific and included my name and specific bedroom as one of the persons/places of interest.

    Yes, it was monumentally stupid to admit that it was mine. In addition, yes, it was monumentally stupid to live in the apartment with my roommates. I signed an individual lease and my roommates were randomly assigned. However, they never caused trouble. They did their thing outside of the apartment and they were actually the best roomies I had ever had - they cleaned up after themselves and were never loud or obnoxious. Yes, I should have moved, but I didn't think I had anything to fear. After all, I didn't do recreational drugs, nor did I have anything to do with them. It's easy to say that I should have moved out, but it's easier to want to then to actually break my lease and find a new apartment. That would have cost money and time that I didn't have. You want to criticize me for not turning them in? Do you want to be the one that ruins someone's life that you have no problem with? Hindsight is 20/20.

    I offered to testify against my roommates, but the police already had enough dirt on them that the DA refused my offer. I had to plea bargain and get treated under first offender status, which means that after my probation is complete I will have the felony charge dismissed, although the arrest and charge will remain on my record unless I can get it expunged. Until my charge is dismissed (which won't be until the successful completion of my three year probation, as well as my rehab and community service) I won't be able to receive federal aid, as I said before. I also lose my state entitlements for both this semester and the following semester (it's a Georgia law).

    This is a true story, and I'm not trolling. I had never been arrested or in trouble with the law before. I'd never even gotten a traffic ticket before. I was fortunate enough that my university's Judicial Affairs were reasonable and just put me on disciplinary probation for a year. Yes, I was stupid for admitting that it was mine, and yes, I was stupid for not moving. But my question is, does the punishment really fit my crime?
  • by aminorex ( 141494 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @08:20PM (#23031396) Homepage Journal
    Heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines kill people and communities precisely because they are illegal. Without the incredible mark-up, there would be no organized crime, no gangs, no gang violence. Without artificially high prices, heroin would be pure, clean, safe, and cheap, and addicts would not get AIDS, would be able to pay for it with jobs, and could get medical treatment for addiction on their employer-paid health insurance. If abusing drugs would threaten your ability to take drugs legally, then there would be far less abuse of drugs, and much more responsible use.

    I use adderall, but I could just as easily use methamphetamine. I have a license from the gatekeeprs which allows me to use adderall (substitute methamphetamine) but if I did not need a prescription, I would no more abuse the adderall or methamphetamine or heroin or cocaine than I do now, i.e. not at all. Millions of people buy these drugs illegally, because they think it improves their lives. I do it legally, because I have the social standing of a middle-aged white professional, so I can.
  • by FLEB ( 312391 ) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:37PM (#23031840) Homepage Journal
    I'd say that part of the problem is that there isn't a clear definition considered-- both in the sense of 'what' and 'why'-- of morality. Morality deals with "good" and "bad", but those terms cannot exist in a vacuum. 'Good' is good... toward what end? 'Bad' is bad... against what goal? Without goals for morality, nothing can be proven-- not so much from a lack of objective ability, as much as from the simple fact that no actual assertion has been made.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11, 2008 @07:18AM (#23034512)
    Sorry, but I don't buy it. I know plenty of people (myself included) who barely get up to use the bathroom, and aren't overweight. Weight is MUCH moreso a function of food abuse than a function of exercise. If you're not able to burn as many calories as you're taking in, stop taking in so many damn calories! It's pretty fucking simple math, and every bit as abusive to your body as drugs are.

Some people carve careers, others chisel them.