June 27, 2006

Being Provigilant About Enhancing the Brain

A Dose Of Genius, says the Washington Post of the "new smart pills." They are here to stay. Ushered in by college kids who understand the implications of cognitive enhancement for their future, drugs like Provigil are taking off and with them performance:
Seen by some ambitious students as the winner's edge -- the difference between a 3.8 average and a 4.0, maybe their ticket to Harvard Law ... they are often obtained free from friends with legitimate prescriptions, students report ... These drugs represent only the first primitive, halting generation of cognitive enhancers. Memory drugs will soon make it to market if human clinical trials continue successfully.

There are lots of the first-generation drugs around. Total sales have increased by more than 300 percent in only four years, topping $3.6 billion last year, according to IMS Health, a pharmaceutical information company. They include Adderall, which was originally aimed at people with attention-deficit disorder, and Provigil, which was aimed at narcoleptics, who fall asleep uncontrollably. In the healthy, this class of drugs variously aids concentration, alertness, focus, short-term memory and wakefulness -- useful qualities in students working on complex term papers and pulling all-nighters before exams. Adderall sales are up 3,135.6 percent over the same period. Provigil is up 359.7 percent.

Where are the cops to catch these guys?
This is not "the type of data collected by the FDA," he says. Law-enforcement activity has been sparse. "Who is the complainant?"

Compared with the kind of drug users who get police attention, "This is an entirely different population of people -- from the unmotivated to the super-motivated," Restak says. These "drug users may be at the top of the class, instead of the ones hanging around the corners."

Smart-pill use generally doesn't show up in campus health center reports, he says, because "This is not the kind of stuff that you would overdose on" easily. Amphetamines are associated with addiction and bodily damage, but in use by ambitious students, "if you go a little over you get wired up but it wears off in a couple of hours. And Provigil has a pretty good safety record." Finally, smart-pill use is a relatively recent development that has not yet achieved widespread attention, much less study, although Restak expects that to change.

"We're going to see it not only in schools, but in businesses, especially where mental endurance matters." Restak can easily imagine a boss saying, " 'You've been here 14 hours; could you do another six?' It's a very competitive world out there, and this gives people an edge."

Plus just think about it: a smart drug that helps keep you from being sleepy, that you activate by looking at light. Just listen to this testimony. The only problem is that people are supposed to sleep eventually.

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