A year after a commentary in the journal Nature ignited a debate about the use among academics of drugs to enhance their mental energy and ability to work long hours, a group of scientists and ethicists write in the same journal that they believe, in theory, that healthy people should have the right to use “smart” pills.
The authors of the new essay, according to the Associated Press, pose a number of caveats on that statement, including calling for more research about the unknown risks of using the drugs, which are commonly prescribed for sleep disorders or hyperactivity. But the authors assert that “we should welcome new methods of improving our brain function,” and that doing it with pills is no more morally objectionable than eating right or getting a good night’s sleep.
One of the seven authors, Martha J. Farah, who is director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that surveys and informal polls have shown that some professors and students acknowledge using such drugs illegally to help them study or remain alert for long hours. “It’s a felony, but it’s being done,” Ms. Farah told the news service. As more effective brain-boosting pills are developed, she said, demand for them is likely to grow.
While some health experts agreed that the issue deserves attention, Leigh Turner, associate director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota, took issue with the essay: “It’s a nice puff piece for selling medications for people who don’t have an illness of any kind,” he told the Associated Press.
The essay, “Towards Responsible Use of Cognitive-Enhancing Drugs by the Healthy,” is available online to Nature subscribers or for purchase. —Charles Huckabee