Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Juicing up... your brain?

According to a recent study, nearly 20% of polled Nature readers (who are by and large scientists) use brain-boosting drugs like Ritalin, Provigil, and Inderal. It's already bad enough that we have to suffer with steroid enhanced athletes. Could it possibly be so bad that scientists are doping up to gain that mental performance edge? I know competition for grant money is fierce, but some things (like one's health) aren't worth the cost of success.

Personally, I have a hard enough time with just caffeine, which is an almost universal drug of choice among all the researchers I know. I avoid caffeine since I know it makes me jittery and gives me noticeable tachycardia. The unpleasant side effects of some of the other drugs don't sound worth it to me. I once had a friend in college who used some sort of herb product so he could sleep less and work longer. The big downside to that was dizziness, mild hallucinations, and the host of problems that occur with sleep deprivation. Then of course, we all have some knowledge about the experimentation with mind expanding and mind altering drugs that happened in the '60s and '70s. While most folks from that era turned out normal, there are plenty of high profile examples of people who either had close calls or just didn't survive long enough to become aging hippies.

You'd think that scientists would be smart enough to just look at what happens to athletes who tried tweaking with their bodies to gain an edge. Messing too much with the body comes with serious risks. There's no reason to believe that doing the same thing with the mind doesn't also have significant physical and mental consequences. Hopefully, this won't become a more common trend.

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