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Is Non-Prescription ADHD Medication Use Ever Ethical? 487

derekmead writes "College students' voracious appetite for study drugs like Adderall is widespread enough that it was one of the main topics of a marquee lecture on neuroethics at Society for Neuroscience's 2012 conference called 'The Impact of Neuroscience on Society: The Neuroethics of "Smart Drugs."' It was excellent stuff by Barbara Sahakian, faculty at Department of Psychicatry at the University of Cambridge. Her focus is on prescription drugs for diseases and conditions like Alzheimer's, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and depression, with the fundamental goal of understanding the neural basis of dysfunction to develop better drugs. Specifically, she wants to create drugs with no risk for substance abuse which means drugs that have no effect on dopamine. The true goal then of her research, fundamentally and briefly, is to repair the impaired. But doing so brings us to the discussion of how much repair is ethical when the repair can be disseminated to people who don't actually need it. Divisions abound on what is to be done. Some experts say that if people can boost their abilities to make up for what mother nature didn't give them, what's wrong with that? Others say that people shouldn't be using these drugs because they're designed for people with serious problems who really need help. So another question for the ethicists is whether cognitive enhancers will ultimately level the playing field or juice the opposing team."
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Is Non-Prescription ADHD Medication Use Ever Ethical?

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  • Re:I've been there (Score:4, Informative)

    by ajlitt ( 19055 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @02:59AM (#41738311)

    Nobody's pointed out the oft-reported decline in creativity that comes with some of these treatments. Those perturbations in linear thought processes aren't always bad...

  • by ExploHD ( 888637 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @04:17AM (#41738681)
    ADHD medications don't actually improve your ability to remember and think. They allow the taker to concentrate on the task at hand, without the brain going onto different topics because of key words. Think of the recent Microsoft Bing commercial where two people are talk, then one of the people starts talking about a different subject because of a word. Then other people start talking about other things and before long it turns to chaos. That's what it is like to have ADHD, but in your brain.
  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @11:29AM (#41740647)

    Millions of years of evolution have figured out the most efficient way to balance survival, intelligence, and metabolic conservation

    Except that we do not live in jungles, where we needed to be able to very quickly divert our attention from creating termite-harvesting tools to running away from a predator. In today's world, we need to be able to focus on a single task for extended periods of time; in other words, we need (or we are expected) to do things that we did not evolve to do.

    You start tweaking that on your own, and while you might get something you want, and may not notice a downside right away -- eventually, one will become apparent. And it could be irreversible.

    Amphetamine is a well-studied drug, having been used and observed for many generations now (it was, in fact, first synthesized more than a century ago). In large doses, all drugs in the amphetamine family (including the constituents of Adderall) can cause brain damage. In therapeutic doses (~10mg Adderall), however, brain damage is not known to occur (if this sounds like a shocking concept -- that high doses cause brain damage and low doses are safe -- then perhaps you should think about the different between drinking a single beer and dying of alcohol poisoning).

    So the next time you get the notion in your head that tweaking your brain with chemicals

    You will probably get this notion while walking past Starbucks. Why pretend that pharmaceuticals are the only drugs that can improve your cognitive performance? Caffeine and nicotine are also used to improve productivity, both are available OTC, and both can be home-grown.

    Every evolutionary step is a tradeoff. Every. Single. One.

    People use drugs to overcome those tradeoffs. You feel pain when a scalpel cuts your flesh, because that is what your body evolved to do; that's why anesthetics are used. Do you think that people should just bite down on a piece of wood during surgery?

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken