Monday, December 08, 2008

Hey kid, put down that Red Bull 

While Minnesota continues to buzz about the Williams Wall and Starcaps (not steroids, I recognize, but part of that issue), there is also a debate on how students use drugs as performance enhancers. A group of scientists are now suggesting that it's OK for healthy students to use the same drugs that are typically reserved for use by elderly and children with brain disorders.

"We should welcome new methods of improving our brain function," and doing it with pills is no more morally objectionable than eating right or getting a good night's sleep, these experts wrote in an opinion piece published online Sunday by the journal Nature.

The commentary calls for more research and a variety of steps for managing the risks.

As more effective brain-boosting pills are developed, demand for them is likely to grow among middle-aged people who want youthful memory powers and multitasking workers who need to keep track of multiple demands, said one commentary author, brain scientist Martha Farah of the University of Pennsylvania.

"Almost everybody is going to want to use it," Farah said.

The full article is here, and its key recommendation appears to be "that mentally competent adults should be able to engage in cognitive enhancement using drugs." Having watched body-building competitions and with experience in sports economics, my game-theoretic brain thinks we would shortly see most students trying to obtain these drugs -- which are still only available by prescription, so many may not find doctors who will prescribe the pills -- particularly at highly selective, competitive institutions. The more highly competitive the field, the more likely you would see them.

So what would higher education institutions do about this? Would they randomly test students for Ritalin, Adderall, or Provigil? They don't test for Mountain Dew and 5-Hour Energy. They don't test for Red Bull or other caffeinated drinks. Should they?

And if "mentally competent adults" can choose "cognitive enhancement using drugs", why cannot mentally competent athletes choose what to put in their bodies? I'm pretty sure the steroid story is something like the game theory story of the hockey helmets. Does that work for you as well with Ritalin?

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