Underground World of Neuroenhancing Drugs

Margaret Talbot wrote a long, comprehensive, and insightful article in the New Yorker about the underground world of neuroenhancing drugs such as Adderall. Anyone who's been to college recently knows that the use of these drugs on campuses is rampant and that everyone and their brother seems to be obtaining A.D.D. diagnoses in order to snag the latest thing which will help them focus and work more productively. Therefore the piece should have particular resonance for people under 30.

What makes this topic tricky — and Talbot does a good job at conveying as much — is that neuroenhancers are not categorically bad. For some people they're essential to being a functioning person. Plus it's hypocritical to dismiss the whole lot. Coffee is a neuroenahncer, and we don't seem to have any problems it. What makes coffee okay, but the next rung up not okay?

I have never taken these drugs. (Nor have I ever had a cup of coffee!) They "facilitate a pinched, unromantic, grindingly efficient form of productivity," in Talbot's words. They do not spur creative sparks; in fact, I suspect they might even blunt creative verve, or in some other way have a flattening effect. Hence I've stayed away from the pill-popping bonanza, even if I'm as keen on improving my focus as anyone.

As I wrote two years ago in my post about performance enhancing drugs for the mind, I think neuroenhancers and the larger domain of cognitive improvement raise ethical questions that are more important and broadly impactful than doping in baseball or cycling.

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