March 24, 2013
The Questionable Use Of Neuroenhancement
When I was in grad school, about ten years ago, I learned about something called the study drug. Really, it was a drug used for those who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but my peers used it even if they did not have ADHD. They claimed that it helped them focus and study harder, as well as that it enhanced their memory.
I remember feeling really uncomfortable about the prospect. I grew up in a home that focused more on health and holistic medicine than on prescription meds. Of course, when we needed a prescription (for instance, when I started getting severe migraines at age 10), my parents sought out our family doctor’s advice and followed it because he understood the impact of prescription drugs. I never would have thought to use a prescribed drug for anything other than the medical reasons. Thus, to learn that people used ADHD drugs to help them focus and study went against all I had been taught from my parents about medicine.
Apparently, I am not alone in my concerns about misusing the study drug. Far more qualified individuals have come out against this practice. redOrbit reported about a top neurological group led by William Graf, MD, of Yale University that published an article about the moral issues associated with misusing and overprescribing drugs. The American Academy of Neurology published the article in the March 13, 2013, online issue of Neurology.
The problem is multi-faced. First of all, the authors found that some doctors are pushing study drugs to help enhance memory (also called neuroenhancement); however, children and teens still have developing brains thus this may do more harm than good.
The second face is that of the parents. The group found that some doctors had parents demanding that their children receive the drugs despite the lack of evidence that they needed them for ADHD. In some cases, these parents wanted their children to have the neuroenhancment drugs to help them study. Graf and his colleagues discussed that parents who push these drugs on their children risk their brain development.
In both these cases, the doctors must think about their moral obligations to their patients. One of the early tenants of the Hippocratic Oath (that which all doctors must take) is “I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.” It seems to me that prescribing healthy children, teens, and adults neuroenhancement drugs just because borders on overtreatment. Moreover, the basic focus on the Hippocratic Oath is to not harm, lie, or become wrapped up in hubris and to always treat the patient with warmth, sympathy, and understanding. I’m not sure that prescribing the study drug to a patient who does not need them for medical reasons falls into these.
The final face is that of teens and young adults who choose to use them because they think they understand the impact. For a child, teen, or adult with ADHD, the drugs are very useful in helping those individuals. For those without ADHD, these drugs could have serious side effects like cardiac risks and addiction according to a CNN article on the issue.
I get it. School takes concentration, responsibility, and time, but taking a prescribed medication to help enhance focus and memory is not the answer. For those who genuinely need the ADHD medication, this practice of overprescribing could harm them. It could prevent parents from seeking the help their children need because they do not want to be prescribed drugs unnecessarily. Children with ADHD may be more closely scrutinized because others are misusing the drugs. And those who misuse these drugs may find themselves suffering from serious side effects.
Instead of using drugs, those who don’t need them should just rest well, plan for studying, and not overbook themselves. The study drug is not a magic cure for poor time management.
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