So why if this is wrong for athletes, isn't this wrong for academics? Will we soon have congressional hearings on this?
While caffeine reigns as the supreme drug of the professoriate, some university faculty members have started popping "smart" pills to enhance their mental energy and ability to work long hours, according to two University of Cambridge scientists who polled some of their colleagues about their use of cognitive-enhancing drugs.
In a commentary published in Nature on Thursday, Barbara Sahakian and Sharon Morein-Zamir revealed the results of an informal survey they conducted of a handful of colleagues who are all involved in studying drugs that help people perform better mentally.
Ms. Morein-Zamir said they asked "fewer than 10" colleagues in different fields who have done research on cognitive-enhancing drugs, such as Provigil, which is approved in the United States to treat narcolepsy and other severe sleep disorders. "We know that some people—academics—they could be philosophers or ethicists or people who do neuroscience, they chose to take some of these drugs," said Ms. Morein-Zamir.
The notion raises hackles in some parts of academe. "It smells to me a lot like taking steroids for physical prowess," said Barbara Prudhomme White, an associate professor of occupational therapy at the University of New Hampshire, who has studied the abuse of Ritalin by college students. Revelations about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional baseball have stirred public interest recently, and she sees parallels between athletes and assistant professors. "You're expected to publish and teach, and the stakes are high. So young professors have to work their tails off to get that golden nugget of tenure." . . .
Worries About Side Effects
. . . . For example, she notes, cheating the body of sleep suppresses the immune system and impairs brain functions. "There's no reason to believe that modafinil is protecting you from these really bad effects of long-term sleep deprivation," she said.
In fact, although cognitive-enhancing drugs have been on the market for decades (The Chronicle, June 25, 2004), it sometimes takes that long for side effects to become apparent. A major study published in August by the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry showed that children with ADHD who had taken stimulants grew less than did children with ADHD who did not take the drugs. . . . .
Even with such warnings, the allure of chemicals that confer an advantage may be hard to resist for academics, given the pressures they face. If there were a cognitive-enhancing drug that did not have side effects, said Ms. Prudhomme White, "would I be tempted? Damn right I would. ... Who wouldn't be?"
In their Nature commentary, Ms. Sahakian and Ms. Morein-Zamir asked people to consider whether and when cognitive-enhancing drugs are acceptable. While many people might agree that students should not be allowed to use such compounds during, say, a college-entrance exam, society might decide that it was worthwhile for surgeons or air-traffic controllers to use them. . . . .
Labels: Research, Steroids