Stimulants like Adderall were once limited to treating so-called deficient attention spans in young people, and then the drugs became a popular (and illicit) study aid across college campuses — now it's increasingly used by healthy adults to gain an edge in the workplace.

The New York Times hosted a provocative debate over the future of performance-enhancing drugs; not in the arena of sports, where entire institutions exist to draw athletes' blood and analyze their pee, but in the professional world where very little regulation exists.

 

Big Think expert and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Harold Koplewicz says that stimulants do not simply bring people up to a normal level of functioning. Anyone who takes them will experience a boost in mental powers, which is perhaps what frightens those who envision a highly competitive workplace fueled by drugs like Adderall.


Even when I was an undergrad (about 10 years ago), everyone seemed to know at least one person with an Adderall prescription. And the Times reports that adults can basically badger their doctors into prescribing the drug (how do those awkward conversations go?).

Neuroscientists, ethicists, and medical practitioners generally have a negative opinion of a future in which we're all popping pills to gain at edge at work. In college, I remember friends putting off studying because they could simply take an Adderall and cram the night before.

Anjan Chatterjee, chairman of neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital and professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, expresses a similar concern about how taking drugs changes how we understand certain virtues like freedom and diligence in fundamental ways:

"There are real worries about the increase of these drugs for work: They include the potential short- and long-term side effects of the stimulants; the potential mental trade-offs, such as the substitution of creativity for concentration; the erosion of character traits like persistence and dedication with pills as a quick solution; and coercion if brain enhancement was ever mandated."

The most approving member of the Times' debate likens the drug to socially acceptable stimulants like coffee and argues that drugs can level the playing field in a world where some have less of a natural ability to focus. 

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Read more at The New York Times.

Photo credit: USA Today